Minister's Opinion - Electoral Reform

The Minister’s Opinion as published in the West Australian newspaper on Monday 3 May 2021.
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The Minister’s Opinion as published in the West Australian newspaper on Monday 3 May 2021

When voters in the Mining and Pastoral region numbered their ballot papers at the recent state election, they probably took little notice of the Daylight Saving Party or its candidate, Wilson Tucker.

After all, the party’s apparent single-issue reason for existence doesn’t have a lot of support in those parts, where the 2009 referendum on daylight saving was soundly rejected by voters there.

And apart from having a name very similar to longtime Liberal MP Wilson “Ironbar” Tuckey, the candidate had no political track record to speak of.

In fact, he was living and working in Seattle in the United States - a long way from the local issues in the electorate.

So it was not surprising that Mr Tucker managed only 98 first-preference votes on election day.

What has shocked political observers and led to a public outcry for electoral reform is that with the help of a trick known as “preference harvesting”, Mr Tucker will spend the next four years sitting in the Legislative Council.

As WA’s Minister for Electoral Affairs, I last week appointed an expert committee to advise me on how to reform voting for the Council, which is sometimes known as the Upper House or House of Review.

There are no plans to change the system of voting in the Legislative Assembly, or Lower House, where each member represents a district and those in regional areas are given a weighting so that large electorates can be well served by their MP.

For example, my electorate of Butler in the northern suburbs of Perth had the most electors of any district this election - 32,711 - compared with the geographically larger electorate of North West Central, which had the lowest number of electors of any district: 10,993.

That means a vote weighting of almost 3:1 but we are not seeking to change this.

I am very grateful that one of our most respected and learned citizens, former Governor Malcolm McCusker AO CVO QC, has agreed to chair the committee.

Our Electoral Act dates back to 1907.  It is time now to look at what West Australians want for their electoral system in 2021.

We know we don’t want a repeat of the shock election of Mr Tucker, who will reap in a $203,030-plus salary as an insult to most people in the Mining and Pastoral Region, and to our system of democracy.

Election  analyst Antony Green said it showed the ticket voting system in WA was broken. "Elected as a Daylight Saving Party MLC from Mining and Pastoral Region, despite polling only 98 votes, and he doesn't actually currently live in the state. You couldn't get a better case of what's wrong with group voting tickets," he stated.

This result is believed to be the lowest primary vote for any successful candidate for election to any Parliament in Australia.

In contrast, the Greens in the North Metropolitan Region received 27,077 first preference votes, but did not win a seat.

In the Agricultural Region, the Nationals received 22,999 votes and won two seats, while in the South Metropolitan Region, the Liberal Party received 67,000 votes but won only one seat.

When you attended a voting booth or filled in a postal paper in the recent State election, did you realise that your ballot might have been worth one-sixth of another West Australian, just because of your postcode?

Our current outdated system also discriminates against country folk and boosts the stocks of others, seemingly without rhyme or reason.

A vote in Kalgoorlie is worth 3.48 times more than the value of a vote in Albany, and 1.48 times more than Esperance.

Unlike in the Legislative Assembly, where electoral boundaries are adjusted each term to ensure there's a relatively even number of electors, the Legislative Council is divided into six geographical regions.

Despite their unequal populations, each region elects six Legislative Councillors.

At the last election, this meant that votes cast by people in the Mining and Pastoral Region were worth 6.22 times more than those cast in the metropolitan area.

This malapportionment is predicted to get worse over time, and all other States have removed this gross inequality amongst citizens from their electoral systems, just as most have removed the group ticketing system that enabled the election of Mr Tucker.

The Ministerial Expert Committee on Electoral Reform will receive submissions over the next four weeks to try to achieve electoral equality for all citizens entitled to vote for the Legislative Council, and will report by the end of June.

The submissions will be considered by a panel that includes experts in public policy and constitutional law from three different WA universities.

Mr McCusker helped craft the Government's Voluntary Assisted Dying Act during the last term of Parliament, and I have great confidence that he will help us achieve a more equitable electoral system.

The parliament does not belong to politicians like me. It belongs to you, the people.

I encourage everyone to have their say.

For further information, visit WA Electoral Reform homepage.


John Quigley is WA’s Attorney General and Minister for Electoral Affairs.