WESTERN AUSTRALIA: by Gerard GoiranNews Weekly
Opportunities for minor parties in WA election
, August 16, 2008
Widespread voter disenchantment with Western Australia's Carpenter Labor Government and the Liberal Opposition could benefit the state's Christian Democratic Party (CDP) and Family First. Gerard Goiran reports.The major parties have lost considerable support in Western Australia. Furthermore, significant changes brought about by new legislation to enshrine "one vote, one value" are set to confuse the outcome for them at a state election which is now widely tipped to be called before the end of the year.
The "one vote, one value" legislation, introduced by the current Carpenter Labor Government, has created 59 Legislative Assembly (lower house) electorates, each of them containing roughly 20,000 to 23,000 voters, except for the sparsely populated Mining & Pastoral region which will now comprise five electorates of 11,000 to 17,000 voters each.
This restructuring of the political map has created an additional two seats in the Legislative Assembly and two seats in the Legislative Council (upper house).
However, the problem of a gerrymander in the upper house has not been resolved. Up to now, the Legislative Council has consisted of four regions with five seats and two regions with seven seats. Under the new arrangements, applicable at the forthcoming election, all six regions will have an equal number of upper house seats, even though the population densities of country and metropolitan areas varies significantly.
This imbalance of representation in the upper house creates opportunities for minor parties in some areas and disadvantages in others.
For instance, in the past, in the North Metropolitan region, both Liberal and Labor have easily won three seats each with the seventh seat going to the Greens. However, with only six seats now available, the Greens could lose their one seat currently held by their leader, Giz Watson.
On the other hand, in the South Metropolitan region, based on the 2005 state election results, the Greens stand a chance of winning a seat in a region currently represented by three Labor MPs and two Liberals (since it will be difficult for the Liberals to win a third seat in a predominantly working-class region).
The contest will be particularly interesting in the South West and in Agriculture. In both these regions, we could see the election of either a Family First or Christian Democratic Party (CDP) candidate.
At the 2005 state election, Family First came close to winning the last seat in the Legislative Council's South West region. Starting with 4,330 votes, Family First boosted its vote by more than 50 per cent with CDP preferences, falling short by only 4,000 votes of winning the last seat, which was eventually secured by Greens' candidate Paul Llewellyn on National preferences.Preferences
In the Agricultural region, the CDP fell short of winning the last seat by a mere 185 votes. The fifth and last seat in the Agricultural region was won by the Liberal party on preferences received earlier on from the Nationals.
Family First and CDP have similar policies and, while the respective profile of their individual voters may vary slightly, it is worth noting that the combined percentage vote of both parties was trailing the Greens by only 1 per cent in 2005.
Another upper house region worth watching is the East Metropolitan region, where the combined CDP/Family First vote at the 2005 state election was trailing the Greens by only 1.15 per cent.
While both CDP and Family First are still struggling to overcome a low profile among the general public, they are making inroads in their own constituencies.
The Christian Democratic Party has been operating a fully staffed, full-time office for the past two years. It secured more than 7 per cent of the primary vote at the recent Murdoch by-election.
Family First has recently re-branded itself with a variation of its name and has recruited a high-profile parliamentarian - former Liberal Party deputy leader Dan Sullivan - to head the party in Western Australia. Both Family First and the CDP intend to field candidates in each seat in each region. In terms of total votes state-wide, the CDP currently ranks fourth after the two major parties and the Greens, and has already endorsed candidates for half of the lower house seats across WA.
An opportunity for Family First and the CDP exists because of the strong dissatisfaction voters are anecdotally expressing towards both major parties. Both the Labor Government and the Opposition Liberals have been plagued by integrity issues arising out of dealings with lobbyist Brian Burke, as well as lewdness towards female staff or MPs.
The Labor Government has also enacted controversial laws allowing the decriminalisation of marijuana, the reduction in the age of homosexual consent, the adoption of children by gay couples and a minimalist decriminalisation model for the regulation of prostitution. Many conservative and Christian voters resent these Labor initiatives and want to see such laws repealed.Code of conduct
The CDP has launched a new policy on parliamentary standards and code of conduct which has been published on its website.
The CDP pledges itself to introduce legislation to create an office for a parliamentary standards commissioner who will investigate complaints received from the public. It will be equipped with strong disciplinary powers to punish breaches of the code of conduct to which all MPs will be subject.
The CDP also intends to introduce legislation to establish a committee on standards in public life, modelled on the UK system which has been in operation since 1994. This committee would create protocols and codes of conduct for the whole of the public sector, state parliament and local government.
Whether this sort of legislation will see the light of day will depend, naturally, on the composition of the upper house.
With tight contests prevailing in the South Metropolitan region between Greens and Liberals, and the likelihood of a Family First or CDP candidate securing a seat in the South West and Agricultural regions, the balance of power in the Legislative Council is likely to remain with a minority party.
Currently, the Greens hold it. Should they however lose it, we may expect a return to a more conservative social legislative agenda in WA, much to the relief of the many conservative voters frustrated by the prevailing arrogant attitude of the current government.- Gerard Goiran is WA state director of the Christian Democratic Party.