Regional councils hit out at controversial Upper House reforms

Michael Roberts & Edward ScownMidwest Times
Meekatharra shire president Harvey Nichols.
Camera IconMeekatharra shire president Harvey Nichols. Credit: Midwest Times

The State Government’s contentious Upper House reforms have drawn fierce criticism from local government leaders in the bush, with one shire president saying regional councils will need to play a more prominent advocacy role.

A Government-funded report on the fairness of the State’s voting system recommended that Upper House MPs be chosen from a single Statewide electorate where every vote carried one value.

The reforms, which were introduced as a Bill to Parliament last week, would also ban “preference harvesting” using group voting tickets.

While accepting the current system wasn’t perfect, Shire of Meekatharra president Harvey Nichols said the new method could make it much harder to advocate for regional funding.

“Now local government is realising we are more probably important than we ever were,” he said.

“As a voice for the bush we are going to have to step up.

“Who else is there?”

Under the “whole-of-State” electorate model that would abolish the six Legislative Council regions, parties and candidates could locate their electorate offices wherever they chose across WA.

Geraldton Mayor Shane Van Styn.
Camera IconGeraldton Mayor Shane Van Styn. Credit: Adam Poulsen/The Geraldton Guardian

But City of Greater Geraldton Mayor Shane Van Styn had an alternative proposal, whereby the regions would be combined into one electorate with six seats, and the metro area into one with 30 seats. While he admits there are flaws to the plan, he sees it as a middle ground.

“What guarantees are there for the regions?” he said.

The Government’s reforms have blindsided regional voters, with Premier Mark McGowan saying the issue was “not on the agenda” in the lead-up to the March State election. Six months later, Mr McGowan strongly endorsed changes recommended by the Ministerial Expert Committee on Electoral Reform.

“The Upper House is broken, the system is broken,” he said.

Dandaragan Shire president Leslee Holmes.
Camera IconDandaragan Shire president Leslee Holmes. Credit: Supplied

Vehemently opposing the proposed system, Shire of Dandaragan president Leslee Holmes said the Government’s backflip “wasn’t an attractive look”.

“When you’ve got such a weak opposition, you’ve got to watch everything,” she said.

“It stands to reduce the opportunity for regional voices to be heard.

“The diversity and wealth of the State lies in the regions. It puts our regional economy at risk.”

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

Sign up for our emails