Monday, 20 October 2008

Post#93 Hire a Hall/Everything (It's Payback Time for the Liberal and National Coalition!)

Now that the dust is settling from the W.A. State election of September 6th, the outlines are emerging of where the new government is going to be staking its claim to power. In the West Australian newspaper a couple of days ago I read a report of the intention of some Liberal backbenchers to revisit the issue of compulsory balloting. Yeah, sure, backbenchers. Just bringing up a matter of personal concern. Just like those Dorothy Dixer questions that backbenchers ask all on their own initiative. One of these concerned fellows is the recently scraped-in new MLA for Riverton, Mr Mike Nahan, a thirty-year refugee from North America. He found a nice little niche advising Richard Court, former Liberal Premier of W.A. and then moved, after Court's ouster, to the Institute of Public Affairs. Here's a reader's comment copied from the PerthNow website where Nahan's election spiel was posted

Dr Mike Nahan was the Executive Director of the extreme right wing "privatise at all costs" Institute for Public Affairs for ten years. Mike chooses not to mention this in his CV. Why is that? He supports the "astroturf" environmental front group the Australian Environmental Foundation, which has a base case of denying climate change, whether it is human induced or not.

Can't find anything to disagree with in that. Nahan's mates at the IPA have a relentlessly Thatcherite view. It's free-market anarchy that they preach; their idea of economic Paradise is located at the point on the eternal wheel of ideas where the lunar left and the lunar right meet. Karl Marx wrote of the "withering away of the organs of the State". Nahan and Co. want to cut off those organs with chainsaws. They bleat like the brainwashed sheep from Animal Farm: "Private good! Government bad!" The facts of private ignorance, corruption, incompetence, indifference to the future and so forth are of no matter to them. It's not really surprising. They're hooked up to an umbilical that provides a steady supply of sustaining funds from the very interests they support and praise. Not a bad money-spinner really. You establish a "think-tank" that unflinchingly (and unthinkingly) sings the praises of the would-be plunderers and they pay you by the word.

So good ole Mike has come out in favour of non-compulsory voter registration and balloting. Just like in his former homeland. Of course, the idea is that the removal of compulsion would make life a lot harder for the Labor party; supposedly its lower-socioeconomic demographic would be less likely to register and turn out. The Labor party really only has itself to blame for this. Apart from the grossly cynical decision to call an early, self-serving election they tampered with the electoral system to give themselves an edge by pushing the specious "one vote, one value" principle. That was a dangerous precedent to set. They did it for no reason other than their own electoral advantage and now they will have to drag that baggage uphill if they fight the Tories on this one.

How is "one vote - one value" specious? It purports that there is an ubiquitous merit in having all representatives elected by the same numbers of electors, i.e. the same number of electors in each electoral district. Weighting votes by having some candidates elected by smaller numbers of constituents than others is supposed to be as heinous as gerrymandering. I heard Stephen Smith, our Foreign Minister and MHR for Perth, W.A., pushing this line on a TV panel show recently and was provoked by his simpleton surety on the matter. If Steve really believes it he's lost his marbles. The practice of weighting votes in the W.A. electoral system to allow smaller constituencies in the hinterland isn't unreasonable. It's petty compensation for the uphill battle that the bush fights against the eternal "flight to the cities" and the negative discrimination this brings. The indisputable fact is that the hinterland is where the main wealth of the State comes from. Cutting back the opportunities of those who choose to make a home there isn't really very clever. Can we really stuff Perth full of three or four million people and then run the entire non-metropolitan economy on a "fly-in, fly-out" system? I thought we had a water supply problem and a sewage treatment problem. And what about those famous housing costs everyone's been squawking about for the past twenty years? Did I imagine all that blarney about "decentralisation" and easing the pressure on urban resources?

Without representation out of proportion to the size of the population, those hinterland areas will suffer an acceleration of the process of withdrawal of services and consequent loss of population. There won't be a political incentive to resist the process. And why is this being done? Because the hinterland seats have consistently returned conservative members to the State Parliament. Simple as that. They kept the Labor party from controlling the Legislative Council for many years and returned Country/National Party members to the Assembly. Well, now the Labor party has had its win over them. But, oh...what happened on the 6th of September just passed? They lost the election! Yep, the new, "fair" system returned a conservative Coalition government and gave a new lease of life to the National party. And now the conservatives, with the likes of Nahan leading the charge will have their turn. With equal hypocrisy and self-serving falsity they will push the idea of voluntary registration and balloting. And they may have the numbers to get it through.

For the sake of attacking each other's support bases the main blocs are hacking away at what was an exemplary system. And here's something for the likes of Stephen Smith to think about: What if this "unbreachable principle" of "one vote, one value" was applied in the context of the Commonwealth electoral system? If disproportionate representation is such anathema, each province of the Commonwealth should have the number of House seats and Senators that its proportion of the nation's population would indicate. So, where would that put Stephen Smith's home state, Western Australia? Certainly not with 12 Senators. Perhaps 8. Would the ACT and NT still qualify for 2 Senators? And if the provision in the Constitution that all original States of the Federation are guaranteed at least 5 seats in the House was removed, Tasmania would be reduced from 5 to 2. As well as dropping from 12 senators to 3. South Australia would certainly lose at least 4 Senators. And the Big Three, New South Wales/Victoria/Queensland would collectively gain as many as were lost by the others.

Obviously, the Senators don't sit in provincial blocs, nor do they often vote across party lines to defend a provincial interest. This often leads to mockery of the Senate in response to its title "States' House" (although it should now be "States and Territories" , since they've received Senate representation). The omission in this viewpoint is that the existence of those Senate seats provides a motive for the parties to give consideration to provincial concerns from the less-populated provinces which would otherwise be neglected. They don't often clash within their party ranks in the Senate because all parties have a vested interest in going along with certain main trends in national policy. If some parts of the nation could be reduced in electoral importance the inhabitants thereof would begin to notice that the Senate we have now wasn't just a paper tiger for provincial interests. Unfortunately, some people will only cotton to that when they're actually being thoroughly treated like dirt by Canberra. And that's the risk being run by Western Australians like Stephen Smith when they throw away that protective principle in the State context. What will Steve say if the Premiers of the three largest States demand application of "one vote, one value" to the Commonwealth's Constitution? Not much of coherence or consequence I reckon.

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