Australia Amid warnings the WA election may end in 'total control', it's worth examining what that means

00:53  18 february  2021
00:53  18 february  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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a purple bench in front of a building: The warning that Labor could take 'total control' in parliament poses a whole lot of questions. (ABC News: Andrew O'Connor) © Provided by ABC NEWS The warning that Labor could take 'total control' in parliament poses a whole lot of questions. (ABC News: Andrew O'Connor)

A Labor government with "total control" is "dangerous for the future of our state," WA Opposition Leader Zak Kirkup is warning.

But what is total control? What would it mean for politics? And is it actually likely after the state election on March 13?

What is total control?

Having total control of parliament means holding the majority in both the lower and upper houses.

WA's Lower House or Legislative Assembly is made up of 59 members from the 59 different electoral districts.

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It is also where the government is formed. For example, at the moment in WA, that is the Labor party.

Meanwhile, the role of the Upper House or Legislative Council is to legislate and scrutinise government performance and expenditure.

But the government does not need control of the Upper House to be the government of the day.

Currently, there are 36 members of the Upper House, and they come from six regions across the state to give equal representation to the regional areas and Perth.

Essentially, for legislation to become law, it needs to pass through both houses.

So if Labor had total control, its legislation would become law much more easily.

How likely is it that Labor will get it?

Despite the hefty popularity of Premier Mark McGowan, experts say it's pretty unlikely Labor will win total control.

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That's because Labor will have to win a big chunk of votes in regional areas which typically vote blue.

"It is quite unlikely that Labor will win a majority in their own right in the Upper House," Notre Dame University political analyst Martin Drum says.

"It's extremely difficult for them under the current system to do so."

That's because Labor needs another five seats in the Upper House on top of the 14 it already has.

Labor currently has three of six seats in some metropolitan electorates, but Associate Professor Drum says winning four — representing two-thirds of the vote — will be "extremely difficult."

"So there's not too many options for picking up seats in the metropolitan area," he says.

"That means that you're looking for seats in the regional areas, and Labor traditionally hasn't polled that well."

Political analyst Peter Kennedy describes it as a "really long shot," but something that could happen on a good day.

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Despite the warning from the Liberals against total control, Labor insists it is entirely unrealistic.

"The maths is just not there," one minister says.

Curtin University politics professor John Phillimore says the Opposition's warning of total control makes "perfect sense" as a political strategy.

"It's a damage limitation exercise by Mr Kirkup and the Liberal Party," he says.

"It's almost an admission of defeat in some respects."

Is total control rare?

It's worth noting the alliance between the Liberal and National parties effectively has total control every time they are in government.

But on certain issues, the Nationals can go their separate way.

A good example of this came in 2016 when the National Party blocked the then-Liberal government's plan to privatise Fremantle Port.

"The idea of total control makes it sound like it's extremely unusual for a party or an alliance to have power in both houses of parliament," Professor Phillimore says.

"But as recently as 2013, the Liberal and National parties together had 22 of the 36 seats in the Upper House."

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They also had comfortable majority in the Lower House, he points out.

What could happen if Labor gets it?

Having total control of government gives the party increased certainty their legislation will get across the line.

"It's generally healthy to have a hung Upper House, and the reason for that is that the Upper House has the ability to scrutinise the government more effectively," Associate Professor Drum says.

But he says that by no means eliminates scrutiny altogether, as legislation can still be questioned through parliamentary committees, the media and question time.

Associate Professor Drum says one of the benefits for the government of an Upper House majority is they are more likely to efficiently fulfill their election promises.

Conversely, he says it could mean bad legislation isn't properly scrutinised.

UWA Public Policy Institute director Shamit Saggar says for a government with a strong reform agenda, a majority in both houses would be helpful, but he agrees there's still opportunity for scrutiny.

"It's really down to the opposition to be an efficient opposition, whether it's got a small number of elected members or large numbers," Professor Saggar says.

"That's not something you can put at the feet of a re-elected Labor government."

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Just so you know, not all parliaments have two houses.

Queensland abolished its Upper House years ago, which Associate Professor Drum says has led to a lack of scrutiny at times.

Has this happened before?

Professor Phillimore says there has never been a Labor-controlled Upper House before in WA.

But one federal precedent to total control came in the mid-2000s when, under then-prime minister John Howard, the coalition government had a majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

It allowed the government to push through its WorkChoices laws, something Associate Professor Drum says ended up being an unpopular policy that contributed to their loss of power in 2007.

While the experts agree Labor won't claim total control, another possibility could be that between Labor and the Greens, more seats are gained, leading to a greater ability to pass Labor's legislation through.

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usr: 0
This is interesting!