WA POLITICS: by Richard EganNews Weekly
WA election - can the Court Government survive?
, December 16, 2000
The next Western Australian election will be held on a Saturday between 3 February and 24 March 2001. The last election was held four years ago on 14 December 1996 and resulted in Richard Court's Coalition Government being returned for a second term of office with an increased majority of 13 in the Legislative Assembly. The ALP first preference vote dropped to a low of 35.82% compared to 45.69% for the Coalition.
However, the Coalition lost control of the Legislative Council for the first time with the balance of power being held by two Democrats and three Greens.
The ALP needs to win ten seats in the Assembly to gain the 29 seats needed to form a majority government. This is quite possible, as there are ten marginal seats currently held by the Coalition by margins of less than 4%, although Alfred Cove and Carine are only notionally marginal as the 1996 results reflect the outcome of a three-cornered contest with prominent independent candidates.
The West Australian has conducted a series of attacks on ministers in the Court Government alleging corruption of varying degrees. Some of these attacks, such as that on Local Government Minister Paul Omodei relating to clearing some trees from the verge of his rural property, seem to be a complete beat-up. Others, such as Police Minister Kevin Prince's connection with a trust fund scandal, perhaps have more substance. However, there is no doubt that since its once cosy relationship with the Burke/Lawrence Government in the heyday of WA Inc the West Australian has adopted the role of de facto opposition.
On economic policy there is little to distinguish the major parties. The Court Government has moved forward on privatisation of hospitals, transport and Alinta Gas, but criticism from the Gallop-led ALP seems to be on the particulars rather than matters of principle.
Similarly, on industrial relations, to the disappointment of the WA union movement, Gallop has refused to give commitments to wind back the so-called Third Wave of industrial deregulation enacted by the Court Government.
In May 1998 the Western Australian Parliament voted to legalise abortion on demand. Pro-life campaigners, lead by the Coalition for the Defence of Human Life, will be reminding voters, especially in marginal electorates, of how members from all parties voted on this Act. Campaigns favouring ALP candidates have been foreshadowed for the marginal Liberal seats of Ningaloo and Bunbury and a campaign favouring the Liberal candidate is likely in the ALP-held seat of Perth.
The Court Government has been solid in its drug policy, with former Minister Rhonda Parker overseeing the implementation of a strategy against drug abuse before stepping aside to concentrate on campaigning in her electorate of Ballajura, which has a paper thin margin of 0.1%. ALP drug policy favours trials of two heroin injecting rooms and partial decriminalisation of cannabis.
On other social policy the Coalition has been held to a conservative line by a committed group of socially conservative MPs who have succeeded over this term in overriding moves by ministers to legalise brothels and genetic screening of human embryos and in holding the Coalition to firm opposition to euthanasia and homosexual rights legislation proposed by the Australian Democrats in the Legislative Council.
A Gallop-led Labor Government would be committed to legalised prostitution and homosexual rights legislation. Euthanasia would remain a matter for a conscience vote.
Other parties may play some role in the outcome. The Christian Democratic Party, after a well-conducted membership drive to meet a new Electoral Act requirement of 500 members, is concentrating its efforts on winning the last seat in the Legislative Council's North and East Metropolitan Regions, hoping to steal these from the incumbent Greens and Democrats: Liz Watson (Greens), self-confessed lesbian; Helen Hodgson, sponsor of the Democrats' bill to lower the age of consent for homosexual sex to 16; and Norm Kelly (Democrats), author of the Voluntary Euthanasia Bill. The Liberals, after experiencing three years of Green/Democrat obstructionism in the Council, may be interested in preference deals with the CDP.
One Nation will be standing candidates, including an Aboriginal in Kimberley, and could pick up votes from those disaffected with the major parties.
The Liberals for Forests are running a spoiling campaign in several seats, including Minister for Fair Trading, Doug Shave's seat of Alfred Cove and Health Minister John Day's seat of Darling Range. Apart from their opposition to logging in old growth forests the candidates do not seem to have any policies in common and are effectively running as independents. Some independents, such as Frank Lindsay for Darling Range, have pro-life, pro-family views, but others appear to be social libertarians.