Major parties punished in WA elections

After a boring, month-long state election campaign, Western Australian politics suddenly burst into life immediately after the September 6 poll, in which Labor won more seats than the Liberals but neither major party won a clear majority.

While counting continued, both Labor and the Liberals began closed-door horse-trading with independents and the National Party to cobble together an agreement that would give them control of the new Legislative Assembly.

While voters will have no further say in the outcome, the major parties' alarm at their rejection by the electorate has been satisfying for people tired of the bipartisan commitment to economic rationalism.

The West Australian newspaper has reported grumbling among ALP politicians and speculation that Alan Carpenter will lose the Labor Party leadership because of his disastrous decision to call the election early.

Two ex-ALP independents — disgraced former minister John Bowler and former Kwinana mayor Carol Adams — and Liberal-leaning independent Liz Constable may figure in determining the balance of power. But National Party leader Brendon Grylls, with four votes in his pocket, is playing the kingmaker of the next government.

The WA Nationals decided two years ago to break from their coalition with the Liberals and, in an attempt to present an "independent" face, adopted a demand that 25% of WA mining royalties be devoted to "regional development".

The Nationals' campaign tapped a wider community dissatisfaction with the fact that the benefits of WA's mining boom have not reached ordinary people. During the campaign, Carpenter admitted that there was widespread dissatisfaction with the social dislocation being created by the boom.

The fly-in/fly-out work force that is the norm in WA mines means that regional centres are stripped of social life and amenities while wealth is freighted out. In Perth, there is a rising tide of poverty among those stuck on fixed incomes who face skyrocketing housing, fuel and food prices.

To try to distinguish itself from the opposition, Labor turned suddenly to environmental issues during the campaign. Carpenter promised legislation to ban uranium mining and genetically modified crops, and to protect the great western woodlands.

It is quite possible that these green policies gave the ALP more seats than the Liberals on September 6. However, it remains to be seen if the National Party, which opposes all of Labor's environmental promises, will achieve their removal in return for a deal.

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