The Nationals WA are opposed to any measure that seeks to diminish regional representation in our State Parliament.
Unfortunately, the Labor Party has form when it comes to silencing country voters and culling regional representatives in Parliament.
Country people only need cast their minds back to 2005 when the Gallop Labor government passed legislation — with the backing of the Greens — to cut the number of regional seats in the Legislative Assembly from 23 to 17. Labor’s reforms also saw the number of Perth seats increase sharply.
The legislation was intended to silence the voices of regional people.
However, the move backfired when, despite the new system, regional people voted in record numbers to deliver the Nationals the balance of power at the 2008 election. Holding the balance of power allowed the Nationals to deliver Royalties for Regions.
Not satisfied with their first strike, it appears Labor is gearing up for a second go at drowning out rural voices in Parliament with proposed reforms to the Legislative Council.
It tends to be the case when the debate about “one-vote, one-value” rears its head that the cries of protest from predominantly city-based academics and politicians centre around the notion of equality.
They say democracy is being denied to the person who lives in Highgate, for example, because their vote for the State’s Upper House does not carry the same weight as someone who lives on Yarrie Station in the Pilbara.
Yet when that same Pilbara person fills up their tank at a cost 15 per cent higher than the city motorist, there is no such anxiety. Where are the newspaper columns of outrage and thunderous talkback interviews on the dilapidated state of Laverton hospital or the lack of aged-care services in Carnarvon?
I don’t see the same degree of dismay for the constituent who must drive a 400km round-trip to access their local member of Parliament.
I find it amusing that it never seems to be voters — whether they be city based or not — calling for electoral reform. I am sure if I asked the aforementioned person in Highgate whether they thought cutting parliamentary representation for country people was a good idea they would say “no” or ask why it was necessary.
The impact of proposed electoral reform in the Upper House — presented at a New Zealand conference by the President of the Legislative Council (a Labor MP) and espoused in a recent letter to all WA MPs co-signed by academics — is to dilute country representation.
One-vote, one-value in the Upper House would mean a loss of a fair voice for country people from all corners of this vast State. Some of these people are the most economically and socially disadvantaged in the State and I would argue the challenges we face as elected regional representatives require more heads to solve these problems, not fewer. WA is unique. My electorate of Central Wheatbelt has a land mass that comfortably eclipses that of Portugal.
Yet my slice of country WA is comparatively small compared to my Upper House colleagues in the Mining and Pastoral Region. Spanning more than 2 million sqkm from Wyndham in the north to Eucla in the south, Mining and Pastoral covers a majority of the State’s land mass and stretches as far west as Carnarvon.
Vote weighting is important to properly recognise such isolated parts of our State. Indeed, the Gallop Labor government did when it tried to ram its last piece of “one-vote, one-value” legislation through Parliament in 2005 by quarantining the Mining and Pastoral Region from the changes it intended to inflict on other regional Upper House constituencies.
It did this because it accepted the vast distances in that region made it unique.
Seeing your MP is important to many country people. They may not be able to recite one of your debates in Parliament, but they’ll remember that time you shook their hand at the Darkan show or helped secure funding for the local hospital or a mobile phone tower.
But if Labor and the academics get their way, regional people will have a diminished voice speaking out in Parliament on cuts to essential services in the bush. This will be a travesty and entirely unfair when you consider regional areas contribute significantly to our State’s economy and have every right to expect the attention of the Parliament and government.