The WA Government has announced its reform proposals for the Legislative Council. It is based on a report by the government appointed Ministerial Expert Committee on Electoral Reform.
You can find the Committee’s report at this link. The government has made some minor tweaks to the recommendations and will introduce legislation to Parliament tomorrow.
I will add more detail to this post through the day, but initially let me summarise the proposal. The major features are –
Regions to be abolished and Legislative Councillors will be elected from a state-wide electorate.
The number of MLCs will increase from 36 to 37.
The current ballot paper with above and below the line voting will be retained.
Group voting tickets will be abolished, ending party control over between-party between-party preferences.
Optional preferential voting as used for the NSW and SA Legislative Councils will be adopted. A voter is required to mark one square above-the-line with all further preferences optional. This compares with the Senate’s rules where six preferences are recommended.
Below the line votes must mark 22 preferences for the 37 vacancies, down from the current region voting rules where all squares must be numbered. There are no provisions to save below-the-line votes with insufficient or incorrect preferences. As a comparison, NSW requires 15 BTL preferences for 21 vacancies, South Australia 12 for 11 vacancies, and the Senate 12 for 6 vacancies at a half-Senate election, 12 for 12 at a double dissolution.
The quota for election will be 2.63%. Because of optional preferential voting and exhausted preferences, the last vacancies are likely to be filled by candidates with less than a quota of votes.
There are a series of rules to toughen party registration, and their are increased minimum nominator rules for Independents seeking their own column on the ballot paper.
The main issues with the reform proposal are with the ballot paper, how to avoid a giant ballot paper that can’t be printed or counted. I went through some of the issues in a previous post.
Let me run through a series of issues that I think arise out of the change.
Loss of Regional Representation
The current electoral system that builds in substantial weights was always likely to be abolished once Labor got control of the Council. Currently two regions with 10% of the population elect 33% of the Council, while Perth with 75% of the population elects only 50% of the Council. I ran through the existing weightings in a previous post.
I had thought a region based system but without rural over-representation would have been adopted. In the end the difficulty is the distribution of the state’s population. If you went for a four-region nine-member model, Perth plus Mandurah and Dawesville would make up three regions, and the fourth region would run from Bunbury to Kalgoorlie to Broome. If you adopted voter equality as a principle, and ended up with one region covering 95% of the state, why not just adopt a state-wide solution.
NSW and South Australia elect their Legislative Councils state-wide with no allowance for regions. While the Senate gives each state equal representation, there is no allowance for regional representation in each state.
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