27/03/2007 - 22:00

Total recall a winner for Arnie

27/03/2007 - 22:00


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An interesting aspect of what has been dubbed ‘triple-C-gate’, ‘Burkegate’, or ‘lobbygate’ by different media outlets is the expulsion of Labor high-flyers from cabinet and party ranks.

An interesting aspect of what has been dubbed ‘triple-C-gate’, ‘Burkegate’, or ‘lobbygate’ by different media outlets is the expulsion of Labor high-flyers from cabinet and party ranks.

Even before Burke or lobbygate surfaced, Premier Alan Carpenter had ousted from his cabinet and party his one-time ministerial rising star, John D’Orazio.

Heady stuff, indeed. But much more was to come.

Soon after the double D’Orazio dumpings, former Labor premier, Brian Burke, the man Geoff Gallop had placed a blanket ban on – one Mr Carpenter had lifted – also went down the party’s chute.

That was followed by the demotion and then expulsion of one-time minister, John Bowler.

When considering the Burke purge it’s worth recalling that we’re discussing: the son of a former Labor MHR, Thomas Burke; brother of an MLA, Terry, who served as cabinet secretary; a lifelong pal of former national Labor leader, Kim Beazley; and a one-time premier.

So, lots of WA Labor history is involved when it comes to the Burke name, including state Labor elections victories in 1983 and 1986.

You can’t get much better than that. But it was still Coventry.

And don’t forget, Mr Burke single-handedly decided his successor would be Peter Dowding, who, although only narrowly retaining power in 1989, did so despite an exceptionally low statewide Labor vote.

It’s most unlikely one of the other three then hopefuls for the party’s top post would have defeated the Barry MacKinnon-led Liberals in 1989.

So that election should probably also be a notch on Mr Burke’s political holster.

Furthermore, although Mr Carpenter dearly wished to remove badly tarnished Burke loyalist, upper house member, Shelley Archer, from the party, he’s unable to because her husband, Kevin Reynolds, is too powerful.

And moves to replicate the D’Orazio-Burke-Bowler expulsions are in progress against long-time party member and one-time minister, Julian Grill.

But it’s the successful party expulsions of Mr D’Orazio and Mr Bowler and the stymied one against Ms Archer that are the most significant, since all are MPs.

Even though Messrs D’Orazio and Bowler were sacked from cabinet and expelled from the party, they’re still in parliament.

And although Ms Archer was removed from two committees and has had two torrid aspects of her life publicised, she also remains an MP.

This contrasts starkly with Queensland Senator Santo Santoro, who is leaving parliament, though not the Liberal Party.

WA Labor MPs can be sacked from cabinet, removed from committees, and even be expelled from a party for behaviour considered unbecoming, but remain in parliament.

Put otherwise, a premier can refuse to have someone in cabinet, or on his party’s list of committee members, and even expel them from a party, but voters must continue having such people in parliament.

Isn’t there something extra-ordinarily wonky here?

Of course there is.

One would have thought that any-one deemed unsuitable for minis-terial or committee ranks, or to remain a party member would be quite unsuitable to be a parliamentarian.

Apparently not.

Voters must put up with such ministerial, party and committee rejects. They can remain as a member of parliament.

How can such a strange state of affairs be remedied?

Simple…by adopting a procedure that gives voters the power to recall politicians between elections.

In common parlance, empower voters to sack MPs before they complete a term if they’ve done something voters may deem serious misconduct by calling another election in their seat before the next general election.

This procedure is known as recall and is based on the premise that, if voters put someone into a legislature, then those voters should have the power to remove them if evidence of misconduct emerges.

Removing someone from a cabinet, a committee, or a political party isn’t enough.

That’s feather duster treatment.

Now, it’s important to stress that recall isn’t a new idea; it’s a tried-and-tested practice that empowers voters and weakens politicians, which means there’s a greater incentive for politicians not to misbehave; something that’s surely most desirable.

For politician recall to be initiated, a set percentage of voters in a particular electorate need to sign a recall petition that’s tabled in the relevant parliamentary chamber. After that, a date is promptly set for a poll in the seat so a replacement and more suitable candidate can be elected.

Now, if WA had recall, voters could have initiated an election in Mr D’Orazio’s Ballajura seat, in all likelihood he’d now be out looking for work as a pharmacist.

The same could be happening in Mr Bowler’s Murchison-Eyre seat.

In Ms Archer’s case, a petition by voters registered in the mining and pastoral seat could have petitioned for her removal, and the Labor candidate below her on that seat’s ticket would automatically have taken her place.

Voter power to recall politicians exists in 18 of America’s 50 states and in British Columbia, in Canada.

It’s important to note that the power of recall is something voters take seriously; recalls do not arise easily.

It is a power that’s used in exceptional circumstances and has a positive impact upon politicians.

In the US, only two governors have ever been recalled.

The first was North Dakota governor Lynn J Frazier in 1921; the next was in 2003, when California governor Gray Davis endured this ordeal over mismanagement.

For those who have forgotten, Democrat governor Davis was democratically recalled and was electorally succeeded by Austrian-born ironman film star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican.

Most voters were so disgusted with Mr Davis they opted for another party, which is really saying something considering California is traditionally strongly Democratic.

Following ongoing electricity supply problems – some people’s power bills tripled – hundreds of thousands of Californians backed a petition for a gubernatorial recall election to cut Mr Davis’ term short.

In California, 12 per cent of those who voted in the previous gubernatorial election must sign recall petitions to bring on recalls, something the ad hoc recall committee gained easily.

Lobbygate has shown WA desperately needs a constitutional recall clause.

But don’t hold your breath waiting for it.

And the reason is that no WA party wants the people to have any more power over their MPs than already exists.

Parties and MPs want to be as free of elector control as possible. Power of recall – the power to sack – MPs is therefore definitely not countenanced.

State Scene has over the past few years said many times that the WA Liberal Party lacks a collective imagination and is without the slightest hint of a truly reformist democratic inclination.

This applies as much to failed Liberal leaders Colin Barnett and Matt Birney – the man who inflicted what one State Scene contact calls ‘daylight sweating’ – as to present leader, Paul Omodei.

Labor is even worse.

If the pitifully performing Liberals really desired to win government they’d promote such democratic proposals.

They’d also promote citizen-initiated referendums, which also empower voters, a practice half America’s states and Switzerland possess.

Both processes, if explained to voters during an election campaign, would help ensure they’d easily topple lazy humdrum Labor.

But, and one must repeat, don’t hold your breath waiting, since the Liberals, like their Labor counterparts, deep down, see voters as untrustworthy and unreliable.

They believe voters must be carefully managed, not allowed too much of a say in the running of their state.

Scratch a WA politician and you’ll find someone with an unhealthy paternalistic outlook, which is why they won’t press for recall elections.

As far as CIR is concerned, that’s right out of the question.

Just look at what’s happened to WA’s daylight savings referendums over the last 30 or so years.

We’ve had three – in 1975, 1984 and 1992 – with all rejecting daylight savings.

But that didn’t stop most state MPs backing last December’s anti-democratic Matt Birney-D’Orazio move that imposed something voters opposed, not once, nor twice, but three times.


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