Former Governor Malcolm McCusker AC CVO QC will lead a panel of four eminent electoral and constitutional law experts appointed to help the McGowan Government modernise the outdated Electoral Act 1907.
The Government has kicked off the independent process after anomalous outcomes at the March 2021 State election demonstrated the current system was not operating in the best interests of democracy.
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 with significantly different populations.
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 other States have removed this feature from their electoral systems.
Similarly, group voting tickets were abolished for the Australian Senate in 2016 in response to so-called “preference harvesting”, and still exist only in Western Australia and Victoria.
At the last State election, complex and opaque preference deals resulted in a Daylight Saving Party candidate being elected to represent the Mining and Pastoral Region on just 98 first preference votes – equivalent to 0.2 per cent of the total vote in the region.
This is understood 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 or 7.4 per cent of all formal votes in that region, but did not win a seat. The Nationals received a similar number of votes in the Agricultural Region – 22,999 – and won two seats.
Yet the Liberal Party in the South Metropolitan Region picked up only one seat despite polling 67,000 primary votes.
The Ministerial Expert Committee on Electoral Reform will review the Legislative Council electoral system over eight weeks and provide options to Electoral Affairs Minister John Quigley.
Also on the panel is John Curtin Institute of Public Policy Executive Director Professor John Phillimore; Law Reform Commission of WA member and University of Western Australia Law School Professor Sarah Murray; and University of Notre Dame Director of Public Policy Associate Professor Martin Drum.
Mr McCusker helped craft the Government’s Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2019 (WA) during the last term of Parliament.
The Committee is seeking submissions from the public and all stakeholders before 5pm on Monday May 31, 2021.
For further information, visit https://waelectoralreform.wa.gov.au or to provide a submission please email email@example.com
A final report is expected by the middle of 2021.
As stated by Electoral Affairs Minister John Quigley:
“It is a fundamental tenet of democracy that all citizens be treated equally under the law, and it is obvious that the Legislative Council voting system is failing in that basic duty to the electorate.
“I have asked this highly-qualified panel of eminent Western Australians to recommend how electoral equality might be achieved in the Legislative Council, and how its proportional representation system should distribute preferences.
“I invite all interested parties to make a written submission to the Committee.”