The Western Australian Labor Party has announced that the Upper House will face a complete overhaul—despite Premier Mark McGowan’s repeated assurance stating otherwise—leading some to call into question McGowan’s integrity following an election promise saw record high regional support.
Despite McGowan’s expressed support for “enhanced regional representation in Parliament,” the restructure will serve to achieve the exact opposite, says head of law at Sheridan College and former law reform commissioner Augusto Zimmerman.
“The plans to reform WA’s Upper House voting system will result in considerably less regional representation,” Zimmerman told The Epoch Times.
“The Premier objectively lied to the public during his election campaign,” he said. “This sort of duplicitous behaviour is something that you would only expect from a dishonest politician.”
Currently, the Legislative Council, or Upper House, is WA’s Senate-style house of Parliament, representing 6 population-varying regions equally across all of WA. Each region receives 6 seats in the Upper House, for a total of 36 seats.
However, some have called for a restructuring of the system after the election saw votes cast in one rural region worth 6.22 times more than those in the metropolitan area and one seat elected after receiving only 98 votes.
This is despite a similar, varying level of representation in the Australian Senate, which sees New South Wales—with a population of over 8 million—and Tasmania—with a population over 500,000—both receive 12 seats in the Senate.
Electoral Affairs Minister John Quigley announced the formation of the Ministerial Expert Committee to advise the government on the reform, saying that an unequal representation of voters was undemocratic and that a system was needed in which votes were represented more equally.
“It is a fundamental tenet of democracy that all citizens be treated equally under the law, and it is obvious that the Legislative Council voting system is failing in that basic duty,” Quigley said.
Professor of Political Science at the University of Western Australia Benjamin Reilly supported the decision for an overhaul, saying that one of the main problems in the current system was malapportionment—regions represented equally despite greatly varying populations.
“Those regions have hugely different populations but elect the same number of politicians,” Reilly told The Epoch Times. “What that means is that if you live in Perth, for example, your vote for the Legislative Council is worth about one-seventh of similar votes in mining and agricultural regions.”
Reilly said that the need to overhaul the Upper House has been long-standing and that several academics had already been writing to the government to address the issue.
“We’ve been writing collectively about this problem for a while, warning that this could happen, publishing academic articles and so on,” he said. “No one really paid much attention.”
However, National Party Leader and Leader of the Opposition Mia Davies accused the Labor Government of appointing a committee that was handpicked to achieve the exact outcome it wanted.
“The advisory panel is a group of academic activists who have publicly advocated for reform to introduce one-vote-one-value in the Legislative Council,” Davies said.
“The panel will deliver a pre-determined outcome for the Premier under the guise of equity for all voters,” she said.
“I’ll consider their academic arguments on equity when I see equity for access to health care, education, affordable transport and communications for regional Western Australians.”
The recent state election saw an unprecedented landslide victory, with Labor securing 53 out of 59 total seats in the Lower House and 22 out of 32 seats in the Upper House.
While the Upper House is independent of the Lower House, it shares the work of legislating and scrutinising government performance and expenditure.
Labor’s overwhelming dominance in both houses has resulted in a lack of strong opposition, an outcome which some believe may challenge the due democratic process.
Zimmerman pointed out that decreasing the representation of rural areas, which typically garner seats from the National Party, could provide Labor with an even greater advantage in future elections.
“This may obviously advantage Labor in the next election,” Zimmerman said. “And I am quite sure it will have a negative impact on the National Party’s rural representation in the WA Parliament.’
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