Regional voices to fall silent in “electoral reform”

James HaywardCountryman
Premier Mark McGowan and Attorney General John Quigley have made an announcement regarding electoral reform. Pictured is the Premier at Parliament.
Camera IconPremier Mark McGowan and Attorney General John Quigley have made an announcement regarding electoral reform. Pictured is the Premier at Parliament. Credit: Justin Benson-Cooper/The West Australian, - Justin Benson-Cooper / The West Australian Picture: Justin Benson-Cooper

Regional voices in State Parliament will be silenced at the next election, after the Labor Government rammed through new legislation in recent weeks.

Mark McGowan’s so-called “electoral reform” has abolished the South West electorate, along with the Mining and Pastoral, Agricultural and three Metropolitan electorates, and instead created one large WA electorate which will be represented by 37 MPs.

And it is likely that most, if not all, of these MPs will be from Perth.

That’s because under this system, it will be easier to collect more votes from where the majority of people live, so more people in Perth will be elected, resulting in regional people having little or no say in the next State Parliament.

How can people from the metropolitan area possibly understand the challenges we face in the regions, or have any willingness to use their influence in Parliament to make change when all they know is the Perth way of life?

They will have little understanding and experience of regional issues, such as the challenges of vast distances, the inequalities we all experience in access to services, infrastructure, health, education, core government services, and the cost of living and transport.

Labor’s new system will also make it easier for many one-issue parties in the metropolitan area to quickly collect votes and be elected into the Upper House — the very thing Labor claims it wants to eliminate.

Interestingly, your local South West Labor MPs have remained silent about giving away the community’s voice in Parliament, and I challenge each of them to explain to the people of the region how the South West will benefit from this.

The Upper House was purposely set up to ensure everyone’s interests from across the State would be adequately reflected in Parliament so the focus was not just on Perth.

There are 18 MPs in the South West, Agricultural, and Mining and Pastoral regions, and 18 MPs in the metropolitan regions in the Upper House — so this creates a system in which regional voices have equal representation.

These latest reforms destroy this system and it will be harder to elevate our issues in Parliament, and it will only widen the equality gap between Perth and the regions.

Premier Mark McGowan standing on a podium holding a Labor Votes trophy for electoral reform.
Camera IconPremier Mark McGowan standing on a podium holding a Labor Votes trophy for electoral reform. Credit: Don Lindsay/The West Australian

It also sets a dangerous precedent — using the Premier’s reasoning, this could mean reducing the number of senators in Federal Parliament because we have less population than other States.

Why would he champion reforms that would give away WA’s voice in Federal Parliament and allow the formidable States of New South Wales and Victoria more power?

At the moment, every State in Australia has 12 senators to ensure each State is represented equally in the Federal Parliament.

Under Mark McGowan’s model, if applied to the Senate, it could silence WA’s voice in Canberra.

Nationals South West MLC James Hayward.
Camera IconNationals South West MLC James Hayward. Credit: Nicolette Barbas/South Western Times

I also challenge the South West Labor members to explain why they misled the community over the Premier’s plans to introduce these new reforms.

Why did Mr McGowan repeatedly say it was “not on the agenda” in the lead-up to the last election?

He told the people of Albany five days before the election: “It’s not on our agenda, we support enhanced regional representation”.

Why did he then make it the first priority of his new Government after the election?

This deceitfulness meant the people of WA never had the opportunity to consider how it would affect them prior to voting, and they were robbed of having their say.

Mr McGowan’s reforms have nothing to do with preventing minor parties getting elected with a handful of votes — this needs to change and could have been dealt with separately.

The State Opposition would have supported this.

It has everything to do with denying people their right to have a say and consolidating and increasing Labor’s vote at the next election to boost their power base.

Mr McGowan and the Labor Party have turned their backs on regional WA by seizing the opportunity to change a system so they are guaranteed control into the future — all at the expense of regional representation.

Mr McGowan needs to do the honourable and right thing and hold a referendum, and ask the people of WA to decide whether they want to silence the voices of the regions in State Parliament.

James Hayward is a Nationals WA South West MLC.

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