Poll result highlights gaps in system

24/09/2008 - 22:00


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THERE are many things likely to change following the recent state election, not just as a result of a new government but also due to the circumstances in which it took power.

Poll result highlights gaps in system

THERE are many things likely to change following the recent state election, not just as a result of a new government but also due to the circumstances in which it took power.

Having an alliance with Nationals WA will make this a very different conservative government than the last one.

One reason the Nationals are in this position is because of the backlash over the one-vote-one-value changes made by the Carpenter government.

Rural people were mightily upset over this loss of voice and, ironically, managed to become collectively more powerful as a result.

No-one, it seems, is proposing that they return the system to how it was, which probably recognises the gerrymander that existed was not equitable.

Of course, one-vote-one-value is a mysterious thing because our state, for instance, is over-represented per capita in the federal senate. Let's keep that quiet, because my sense of equity doesn't extend to fiddling with that part of the federal constitution our forebears so ably set up.

With the Nationals holding the balance of power there may be a push towards some simple electoral reforms recognising that rural politicians face bigger challenges than those in the city.

It's also possible that such changes could help improve the system overall.

One of the reasons given to me by those who supported the previous system was that rural and regional electorates would simply be too large to be serviced properly if they had the same number of voters as city electorates.

This is a justifiable claim but was never a good reason to allow one person to have a bigger voice than another. If rural electorates are too large, perhaps other solutions need to be found.

One idea may be allowing rural members greater access to transport and bigger expenditure on staff to reach their constituents. The same may need to be considered at election time to assist candidates fighting for seats.

Brendon Grylls showed just how successful travelling regional electorates can be.

However, such travel comes at a cost, both in personal time and parliamentary workload. Attempting to provide some equity in terms of allowing members and candidates to reach the electorate makes sense.

At least one political insider has suggested to me that the Nationals may seek to put a cap on candidate expenditure at election time. This was seen as a way of levelling the playing field in the country where Liberal or Labor candidates can benefit from having a bigger party machine that can switch funding from safe seats to ones they believe they can contest better with higher spending.

Of course, this would not just be in rural electorates, but across the board.

Such systems do work in other countries, I'm told.

Personally, I understand this kind of thinking. Winning an election already requires a lot of fund raising, and that is only likely to get worse.

Should those who govern be the ones with the best ability to raise funds? Certainly, I'd agree if it were personal donations, but when corporate bodies and unions are the main funding institutions it does alter the context of democracy.

However, managing this is difficult. Sometimes getting your voice heard takes money.

One way is to provide handsome election funding from the state, based on historic performance, which then caps how much can be spent overall. In the US, presidential candidates can waive that funding and then spend without a cap, allowing the free voice to be heard.

Somehow I like the ideology behind this, though it hasn't controlled the huge expenditure we have seen required just to become a presidential candidate - all of which means the winner owes someone at some stage after they become leader.

Many on the conservative side of politics would disagree with these sentiments of mine. But increasingly, business is ecumenical when it comes to funding and I remain deeply suspicious of the motivations of too many who spend big on politics. I realise there are purists and ideologues who mean well, but there are also charlatans and corrupters who enjoy the system as it stands.

In Western Australia, we've seen too often how much money and politics go bad when mixed.

I would dearly like to see a formula where ideas are the true currency of political campaigns and the electorate has results and outcomes to judge governments on.

There may be many who view the Nationals' position as holding the balance of power, and the Liberals having a minority government, as dangerous.

But perhaps this offers a chance for someone to come with a formula that works and gets the politicians doing their job, and being well rewarded for it.


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