11/02/2009 - 22:00

System needs saving, not daylight

11/02/2009 - 22:00


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WITH Western Australia's fourth referendum on daylight saving since 1975 to be held in a few months, State Scene thought it appropriate to take a look back at parliament's disgraceful record on this question.

System needs saving, not daylight

WITH Western Australia's fourth referendum on daylight saving since 1975 to be held in a few months, State Scene thought it appropriate to take a look back at parliament's disgraceful record on this question.

However, before presenting it, it's worth stressing that referendums are far and away the most democratic way of deciding the fate of controversial legislation.

This columnist would welcome a state of affairs where several referendum questions were put to the people at each state election.

That, of course, only applies if the referendum process isn't perverted, as has persistently happened here since 1975.

Currently, tiny handfuls of people decide for all Western Australians what the laws shall be. The miniscule handful referred to is, of course, our 95 state MPs, who monopolise the legislative process - certainly not democracy in action.

Regular readers of this column will know that State Scene has long argued WA is far from a true democracy.

What we are is a ballotocracy, meaning we elect, at four-yearly state-wide ballots, 95 politicians, after which time they, and only they, decide what all laws shall be.

By no stretch of the imagination can that be called democracy, since fewer than 100 people decide everything for all Western Australians.

In contrast, the Swiss and voters in about half the states of America can initiate referendums to block bills until a state-wide ballot decides their fate.

And in many American states, voters can even initiate bills and via referendums decide if such proposed bills will become law.

Formers Australian prime minister Alfred Deakin succinctly dubbed this as ensuring "electors themselves [were] masters of the situation".

In such cases, voters either determine or have the power to determine what becomes or doesn't become law, since the politicians' legislative monopoly is broken.

That's not the case in WA, where our politicians only deem to give us, the voters, the opportunity to decide the fate of a bill, as with the daylight saving referendum.

But note in WA's case it's only the politicians - not the citizens - who decide whether or not voters get a referendum say.

Western Australians are denied the constitutional right to call referendums, a right the Swiss and many Americans have and which even includes initiating referendums on changes to constitutions.

Most American states acquired constitutionally enshrined citizen-initiating clauses between the 1890s and 1920, during which time WA's Labor Party actually sought to institute true democracy here.

In 1912, Labor Premier John Scaddan tabled a citizens-initiative bill to transform WA into a real democracy, to be like many American states.

Unfortunately the conservative-dominated upper house blocked Scaddan's bill, so WA to this day remains a ballotocracy. Voters cannot block unpopular legislation by calling referendums, or initiate legislation.

With this in mind, let's consider the deplorable history of WA's politicians on the daylight saving issue, one that's anti-democratic in the extreme.

Before doing so, State Scene must stress that, whether or not we have daylight saving is not something that greatly concerns me.

My primary concern has always been that, since voting on this question began more than 30 years ago, voters are treated honestly, fairly and, most especially, democratically.

And that doesn't mean ignoring majority decisions every seven or so years after people have spoken at a referendum.

The issue first surfaced when the inaugural Daylight Saving Bill was passed by a tiny band of MPs, which led to its adoption for the 1974-75 summer.

However, under the Court Liberal government, provision was also made for a referendum - a politician-initiated one - due at summer's end, on March 8 1975, to decide whether or not it continued.

The question put was: "Are you in favour of the standard time in the state being advanced one hour from the last Sunday of October in each year until the first Sunday in March next following?"

The results were 250,644 'yes' (46.34 per cent) to 290,179 'no' (53.66 per cent).

In other words, Western Australians decided democratically against daylight saving.

But that's far from the end of the story, because in 1983 the newly elected Burke Labor government passed a second Daylight Saving Bill, despite the 1975 majority democratic rejection.

And, like the first, it provided for a referendum, due on April 7 1984, which carried the same question as in 1975.

Now, it's important to realise that voters were undemocratically swindled right there and then, because daylight saving was imposed on WA for the 1983-84 summer, thus before the referendum.

What that government should have done to be democratic was put that question to the people first and, if a majority voted yes, that is, if they'd reversed the 1975 democratic no decision, then parliament should only have then proceeded with enacting the 1983 legislation.

But they opted for an anti-democratic back-to-front back door path - ignoring the 1975 democratic rejection.

What was the result?

Only 329,536 (45.65 per cent) backed the 'yes' case, while the 'no' side won with 392,340 votes (54.35 per cent).

Then, unbelievably, in 1991, we again had the 1983 anti-democratic trick pulled on voters, with the Lawrence Labor government ignoring the 1975 and 1983 referendum decisions so that daylight saving was adopted a third time, for the 1991-92 summer.

And voters were again asked for their view after the event, with the outcome being 399,441 voting 'yes' (46.86 per cent) to 453,985 backing 'no' (53.14 per cent).

Now, you'd think that after three strikes our MPs, who had by now thrice ignored earlier voter democratic decisions - in 1975, 1984 and 1992 - would surrender.

But no, old anti-democratic habits never die.

So in 2006 MPs ignored the people yet again and repeated the Burke and Lawrence governments' ploy.

That's why another referendum is due this May.

But this time MPs pulled an additional swiftie.

Because they won't take no for an answer, they've decided WA's fourth daylight saving referendum should be held not at the end of summer, but as temperatures cool a bit

They're hoping electors will front polling booths on a windy and rainy Saturday and, at long last, vote yes; the way our anti-democratic MPs have wanted since 1975.

Very tricky.

All this just shows that if voters don't have true democracy - citizen initiative and referendum - MPs will go to any lengths to get their way.

In a nutshell, what's happened since the mid-1970s is that anti-democratic politicians have ignored the democratic majority vote of the people not once, or twice, but three times.

That, put bluntly, is absolutely disgraceful.

Anyone seeing their ongoing shenanigans as democracy in action has been well and truly conned.

And now Premier Colin Barnett says he expects: "The State will follow the (referendum) results accordingly."

Yes, but I bet if voters yet again reject it on May 16, it will re-appear by about 2016.

Because of this ongoing refusal to accept democratic decisions, State Scene intends to vote 'no', to show our tricky politicians they can't fool some of the people even some of the time.



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