Premier rules out conscience vote but momentum builds to protect regional voice

Campbell WilliamsonNarrogin Observer
WALGA logo.
Camera IconWALGA logo. Credit: Supplied

A chorus is growing to protect regional voices in WA with the WA Local Government Association coming out against the concept of one-vote, one-value, saying it does not add up.

Last month, Shire of Narrogin president Leigh Ballard penned an open letter to Mark McGowan, calling on the Premier to protect regional representation and give Labor MPs a conscience vote.

The McGowan Government announced the establishment of a ministerial expert committee in April to examine how “electoral equality” could be achieved in the Legislative Council.

Mr Ballard said the Premier responded to his letter, refusing to allow such a vote.

However the Wheatbelt Shire leader’s letter has helped build awareness and support for protecting regional representation in Parliament.

WA’s Upper House is divided into six geographical regions, with each region electing six members to Parliament despite big population and geographical differences between bush and city electorates. Half the seats in the Upper House are given to regional members despite regional constituents representing about a quarter of registered voters at the last election.

For example, with about 70,000 electors, votes cast in the Mining and Pastoral Region at the March election were worth 6.22 times more than those cast in Perth.

Advocates argue the system is necessary to safeguard regional voices but is now under review.

After Mr Ballard’s letter, WALGA made a formal submission to the expert committee charged with recommending electoral reforms to the Legislative Council.

“The concept of one-vote, one-value just doesn’t add up here in WA,” WALGA said in a statement.

“Rural and remote political representation is important to ensure that regional Western Australia is supported to continue to generate export and employment opportunities that benefit us all.

“A reduction in political representation in the WA Parliament will lead to an expectation that local governments will expand to fill this role, a role that may stretch local governments beyond their capacity and resources.

“Removing or limiting access to MPs will have significant repercussions and does not achieve electoral equality.” While being buoyed by the support for regional voices, Mr Ballard described Mr McGowan’s response to his letter as “disappointing”.

“I'm disappointed but it was probably expected,” Mr Ballard said.

“The response has been that ... the vote will be down party lines and it will be based on party policy and that’s it.

“I’m hoping that it might get a few other regional councils to actually do the same thing.

“On our own we aren’t going to do a lot but hopefully in numbers we can make a difference.

“There’s not a lot we can do but ask questions and lobby unfortunately.”

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails