Western Australia wraps up

Counting is now complete from the Western Australian state election of a fortnight ago. Labor won a landslide, with 41 seats in the 59-member Legislative Assembly – a gain of 21. Its leader Mark McGowan has been sworn in as the new premier.

The Liberals were left with 13 seats (down 19) and the Nationals five (down two). One Nation, which finished not far behind the Nationals, failed to win a seat – as did the Greens, who comfortably outvoted both of them but got a lot less media attention.

Antony Green has done a full analysis of One Nation’s preferences, and reaches the same conclusion I did at the time: that the presence or absence of a One Nation candidate made essentially no difference to the pro-Labor swing. The most that can be said is that the Liberals did a bit better than “might have occurred had One Nation followed its previous tactic of directing preferences against sitting members.” But he also thinks (as I do) that negative publicity about the deal with One Nation probably outweighed any benefit that it delivered.

The Legislative Council has also been finalised, yielding an even left-right split: Labor and the Greens will have exactly half the seats between them, facing off against a five-party combination holding the other 18 seats. The smoothness of Labor’s legislative program could depend a lot on whether it can convince an opposition member to become president, since the president has a casting vote but not a deliberative one.

Liberal Simon O’Brien, who had been thought a plausible candidate for the job, has turned down the idea. The new upper house, however, does not take office until 22 May, so there will be time for some horse trading before then.

When the time comes, the new government will need to think hard about reform of the Council. It retains two highly undemocratic features: the lottery of automatic ticket preferencing (abolished last year for the Senate, but surviving in three states), and a gross malapportionment that makes votes in remote districts worth up to seven times the value of those in the city.

The last Labor government managed to finally (more or less) end the malapportionment in the lower house, but it was retained and in fact made worse for the Council – courtesy of the Greens, of all people, who had some weird idea about trees being entitled to representation as well as people.

But a funny thing happened on the way to democracy. Although the Legislative Assembly is now elected on the basis of “one vote one value”, in terms of outcome it is a great deal less democratic than the Council. Here are the complete figures, with the percentages of votes and seats won:

  Legislative Assembly   Legislative Council
  % vote seats % seats   % vote seats % seats
Labor 42.2% 41 69.5%   40.4% 14 38.9%
Liberal 31.2% 13 22.0%   26.7% 9 25.0%
Greens 8.9% 0 0.0%   8.6% 4 11.1%
Nationals 5.4% 5 8.5%   4.4% 4 11.1%
One Nation 4.9% 0 0.0%   8.2% 3 8.3%
Christians 2.1% 0 0.0%   1.9% 0 0.0%
Shooters 1.3% 0 0.0%   2.4% 1 2.8%
Lib Dems         1.8% 1 2.8%


The result in the lower house is hopelessly lopsided: the relationship between votes and seats seems completely arbitrary. Whereas in the upper house, apart from the over-representation of the Nationals (partly an artifact of the fact that they don’t contest the metropolitan seats), it’s remarkably good.

That’s not to say that reform of the Council isn’t a worthy goal; it certainly is. But if we really cared about democracy, we’d be worrying a lot more about the strange results that our lower house systems keep producing.

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