Agricultural Region MLCs clash over historic electoral reform bill

Headshot of Tom Shanahan
Tom ShanahanGreat Southern Herald
Agricultural Region MLC's Steve Martin and Shelley Payne.
Camera IconAgricultural Region MLC's Steve Martin and Shelley Payne. Credit: Tom Shanahan

Tensions between regional MPs have reached boiling point, with Liberal Agricultural MLC Steve Martin blasting his inland Labor counterparts for not speaking on a historic electoral reform Bill during its second reading last week.

But Labor Agricultural MLC Shelley Payne is standing firm behind her party’s line, stating it is “outrageous that the Liberals and Nationals are against equality”.

Mr Martin came out firing at the McGowan Government for “betraying regional West Australians” after the second reading of the Constitutional and Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Equality) Bill 2021 was voted through the chamber 21-10.

The proposed changes unveiled by the State Government in September remove the six existing Legislative Council regions — each represented by six MPs — and replace them with one “whole-of-State” electorate, with the number of MPs rising from 36 to 37.

Ballot preferencing would also be simplified and group voting tickets abolished to prevent complex preference harvesting deals between micro-parties.

Mr Martin said he “doesn’t think for a second” regional Western Australians will forget the contempt the State Government has shown for regional voters by reducing their voices in Parliament.

The leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Council, Liberal South West MLC Steve Thomas, said Labor was “gutting regional representation”.

“By the end of the second reading debate only the parliamentary secretary running the Bill and Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan made a contribution,” he said.

“That means that of the 10 regional Labor Upper House MPs, only Alannah MacTiernan deigned to make a comment.

“The other nine silently toed the Labor line as regional representation was decimated.”

Ms Payne, who did not speak during the second reading, said there were still opportunities to speak on electoral reform in Parliament, and she intended to take them.

“I can’t believe it’s 2021, and we still don’t have a system where every voter’s ballot carries equal weight,” she told the Herald.

“A vote in Kalgoorlie is worth nearly 3 1/2 times that of a vote in Albany, and nearly 1 1/2 times that of a vote in Narrogin or Katanning.

“I find it outrageous that the Liberals and the Nationals are against equality.”

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