WA Introduces Bill for Constitutional and Electoral Reform

Wednesday 17 November 2021 @ 8.56 a.m. | Judiciary, Legal Profession & Procedure | Legal Research

On 16 September 2021, the Western Australian Minister for Electoral Affairs John Quigley ("the Minister") introduced the Constitutional and Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Equality) Bill 2021 (WA) (the "Bill") into the Legislative Assembly.

The key purpose of the Bill, according to the Minister in his second reading speech is:

"to establish a whole-of-state electorate, abolish group voting tickets and introduce optional preferential voting for the Western Australian Legislative Council. Each of the six existing regions will be replaced with a whole-of-state electorate for the Council... This Bill will reform the Legislative Council, addressing well-known anomalies that have been canvassed from multiple quarters both interstate and locally over a long time".

The Bill proposes amendments to the:

  • Electoral Act 1907 (WA); 
  • Constitution Act 1889 (WA); and
  • Constitution Acts Amendment Act 1899 (WA);

and consequential amendments to the:

  • Local Government Act 1995 (WA); and 
  • Salaries and Allowances Act 1975 (WA).

The Bill also proposes to repeal the Electoral (Ballot Paper Forms) Regulations 1990 (WA).

The Bill has passed both houses and is currently awaiting assent.

Summary of Proposed Electoral Reforms

The Bill seeks to create electoral equality for all electors entitled to vote in the Legislative Council election. The Bill does so by proposing to provide for a single electorate (a whole of State electorate) for the election of members of the Council. Currently, electors vote for six members for their region only (with the State divided into six regions). The Bill proposes to amend the Electoral Act 1907 (WA), so that each elector, regardless of postcode, votes for all members of the Council and is represented by all elected members of the Council.

The Bill also proposes that the existing "group voting ticket system and full preferential voting" be abolished. Instead the Bill puts forward a system of optional preferential voting in the Council. This will require electors to vote for one or more preferred groups above the dividing line on the ballot paper, or at least 20 candidates below the dividing line, to cast a formal vote. Abolishing the "group voting ticket system" will bring Western Australian voting in line with voting in the Senate and the upper houses in New South Wales and South Australia.

Other electoral reforms proposed by the Bill include:

  • increasing the number of Council members from 36 to 37 (through amendment of section 5 of the Constitution Acts Amendment Act 1899 (WA));
  • ceasing operation of the Legislative Council if an election wholly fails or is declared by a court to be absolutely void (through amendment of section 47 of the Constitution Acts Amendment Act 1899 (WA));
  • only groups with five or more candidates will be entitled to a square above the dividing line on the ballot paper

Changes to Party Registration Requirements

The Bill also seeks to change party registration requirements. Currently, eligibility for registration requires a party to submit names and addresses of at least 500 members. These members must be electors. Part of the submission is a constitution that must specify that as one of its objects or activities, the party seeks to promote the election of an endorsed candidate or candidates to the Parliament.

The new requirements are, according to the explanatory memorandum, to ensure that registered political parties have:

"a genuine foundation of community support and are able to provide some evidence of operating as a political party". 

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Constitutional and Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Equality) Bill 2021 (WA) and additional explanatory materials available from the TimeBase's LawOne Service

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