WESTERN AUSTRALIA: by Richard EganNews Weekly
Gallop Labor Government returned to power
, March 12, 2005
Dr Geoff Gallop's Labor Government has been re-elected for another four-year term in the Western Australian election held on February 26.
In the 2001 election, the One Nation vote peaked at 9.5 per cent and delivered up to 10 seats to Labor, giving the Gallop Government a seven-seat majority. In this election the One Nation vote collapsed and both major parties picked up significant swings in first preference votes - Labor 5.2 per cent and the Liberal and Nationals together 4.5 per cent.
The result was that few seats changed hands, leaving Labor with a likely seven-seat majority again in the new Legislative Assembly. It seems that the One Nation vote of 2001 is indeed a swinging vote with no natural home.Explanations for Liberal failure
Commentators have varying explanations for the Liberal failure to seize government from Labor. On election night, Liberal leader Colin Barnett stressed the difficulties of displacing a first-term government and the challenge of ousting incumbents in individual seats when both the national and state economies are booming.
Most commentators agreed that Mr Barnett's bold commitment to build a canal to bring water from the Fitzroy River to Perth didn't directly cost the Liberals votes; but some argued that it distracted attention from an attack on the Government's failures on health, education and electricity.
It is to be hoped that this does not set back visionary infrastructure planning in Western Australia and that the case for utilising the water resources of the Kimberley region - not just to supply water to Perth, but to develop agriculture and industry in the region itself - is further pursued in a less volatile setting than an election campaign.
Pro-family groups are disappointed that the election result means a missed opportunity to have the worst aspects of the Gallop Government's social "reforms" repealed, such as decriminalisation of cannabis use and cultivation and same-sex adoption. However, unlike the previous term, Labor has not begun this term with an announced agenda of radical social change.
Labor remains committed to pursuing electoral reform based on the so-called "one-vote one-value" principal. However, the policy has been slightly amended to guarantee the existing ratios in the five seats which make up the Mining and Pastoral Region. (Four of these happen to be held by Labor.)
Labor's previous attempt to secure its desired electoral reform was ruled unconstitutional by the WA Supreme Court and the High Court. The Greens declined to use their numbers in the Legislative Council to change the voting rules of the council to assist Labor in a further attempt to get its electoral package passed.
There is a suggestion that prior to the new Legislative Council being installed after May 21, 2005, Labor could get the absolute majority of 18 needed to pass its electoral reform bills by offering the council presidency to disaffected former Liberal MLC, Alan Cadby.
The composition of the new upper house is not clear at the time of writing. The number of Greens has definitely been reduced down from five to either one or possibly two. Labor has increased its representation from 13 to between 15 and 17. The Nationals may gain a second seat in the south-west or their preferences may deliver the seat to the second Green. The Christian Democratic Party's Dr Lachlan Dunjey may succeed in winning a seat in the Agricultural Region. The Government's legislative agenda for its second term may be decisively affected by which party controls the Legislative Council. The balance of power may be held by either the Greens or the Christian Democratic Party.
On polling day, Western Australians also voted on two referendum questions.
1. Do you believe that the Western Australian community would benefit if trading hours in the Perth Metropolitan Area were extended to allow general retail shops to trade until 9 pm Monday to Friday?
2. Do you believe that the Western Australian community would benefit if trading hours in the Perth Metropolitan Area were extended to allow general retail shops to trade for 6 hours on Sunday?Big business agenda
Both questions were answered with a resounding No, with 59 per cent of Western Australians rejecting extended evening trading and 62 per cent rejecting Sunday trading. This is a major populist victory against big business and the competition policy agenda.
The Government is pledged to accept the results of the referendum and will not pursue extended trading-hours legislation. As a result, WA is likely to continue to incur an annual competition penalty of about $7.5 million for its refusal to comply with the National Competition Council's demand for full deregulation of trading hours.
- Richard Egan is WA state president of the National Civic Council.