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More notes on the Western Australian election

By Bernie Masters - posted Thursday, 15 March 2001

Elections always produce winners and losers but the recent WA election included some interesting outcomes that may have important implications for the future.

In the upper house, the losers were the Australian Democrats, National Party and Liberal Party. The Democrats had previously held two seats but lost them both. A reduction in their primary vote was due to the Greens WA running a high-profile campaign against logging of old-growth and high-conservation value forests. Although the Democrats had a more detailed and wide-ranging set of policies than the Greens, the forest issue had enjoyed a high profile for more than three years, helping to focus the public’s mind.

The Democrats were not helped by preference deals which saw the Greens securing preferences from most other parties and candidates.


The National Party had previously entered into joint tickets with their larger Coalition partner, the Liberal Party, allowing them to win three seats in the previous Parliament with little effort. This time around, the lay Liberal Party effectively demanded that the parliamentary Liberal Party reject any agreement with their coalition partners, partly as retribution for the National’s lack of campaign effort in the 1996 election and for their lack of support in Parliament on several key issues such as the government’s forestry policy.

The end result was that only one National Party MP retained his Upper House seat. Murray Criddle had been the Transport Minister and this high-profile position, plus an agreeable personality, helped him across the line.

The Liberal Party saw their representation drop from 14 to 12 seats, reflecting a large movement of their supporters to One Nation. Even so, they remain the largest non-government party in the Legislative Council, just one seat less than the victorious ALP. The Democrats are no longer represented and the National Party representation has been cut by two thirds.

Who were the winners in the Upper House? At first glance, the ALP seems to have done very well, but this is not totally accurate. While their representation rose from 10 to 13, two of these positions were simply reclaimed from former ALP MPs who had left the party during the last term of Parliament. In reality, therefore, they only won one extra seat.

However, the ALP’s good result in the upper house was handed to them via the Greens, who increased their representation from 3 to 5. With only 34 seats in the Upper House, the combined tally of 18 ALP and Green MPs is a majority, even after one of their members is given the position of President (the chief presiding officer). This will allow the new government to pass any legislation which is supported by the Greens, an outcome that is likely, given the ALP’s commitment to stopping logging in all old-growth forests. Electoral reform such as one vote, one value; decriminalisation of marijuana and prostitution laws; lowering the legal age of consent for homosexual and gay persons from 21 to 16; introduction of safe heroin injecting rooms; and possibly even euthanasia should be some of the controversial issues than can be expected to come before the Legislative Council.

The success of the Greens in increasing their representation from 3 to 5 should not be overstated, however. Both of their new MPs owe their success to a favourable preference position, whereby virtually every party and candidate put One Nation last in the Upper House. This saw the Greens collect a large number of preference votes by default, rather than in their own right. It can even be argued that at least one of the sitting members retained her seat in this way.


Looking to the next election, it is possible to assume that the major parties will ‘deal’ with the threat of One Nation in ways that best suit their political and moral needs. Without going into detail, I suspect that One Nation will be treated differently in four years time. The result will be that the Greens should lose 2 or 3 of their seats, with the Liberal Party picking up at least two of these and One Nation the remaining seat. The National Party will be hard pressed to retain their single position, with Liberal or One Nation being successful. The balance of power in the Legislative Council will thus move away from the ALP and their supporters, back to a more conservative force.

The Lower House

Government is formed by whichever party or coalition of parties wins the majority of seats in the Legislative Assembly or lower house. Clearly, the ALP had a stunning victory, now holding 32 (previously 18) out of the 57 seats. The Liberal Party dropped from 29 to 16, National Party from 6 to 5, with four independents (two former Liberals, one former ALP and only one with genuine independent credentials, in spite of a claimed link to the Liberal Party - the Liberals for Forests).

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See also Graham Young's notes on the Western Australian Election.

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About the Author

Bernie Masters was the Liberal MP for Vasse from 1996 to 2005 and the shadow minister for science and the environment from 2001 to 2004.

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Western Australian Labor Party
Western Australian Liberal Party
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