Reform's future remains clouded

30 Jan, 2002 10:00 PM

THE future of Labor's one-vote one-value electoral reform proposal remains in limbo as Supreme Court officials scratch their heads over how to conduct a fair hearing.

After objections were raised that Labor had illegally pushed reforms through the Legislative Assembly, the Clerk of Parliaments Laurie Marquet referred the matter to the Supreme Court.

But the unprecedented case has left officials confused about who will stand against Labor's actions and how it will be funded.

At a hearing last week, Supreme Court Justice John McKechnie said he would not waste the time of the Full Court in deciding the matter unless there was a fair argument from both sides.

Justice McKechnie adjourned the hearing until Friday, February 1, to allow both parties time to find a solution.

Attorney General Jim McGinty said indications by Mr Marquet that he would present arguments for and against the legislation was "entirely appropriate".

Mr McGinty stood by previous statements that the Government had no intention of paying for the opposition to argue the "no" case.

He said Friday's hearing was expected to determine if the Full Court or a single judge should hear the matter.

But WAFarmers legal representative Dr Hal Colebatch said the matter of who would stand against the legislation and cost needed to be addressed before any further proceedings took place.

"While the Clerk of the Parliament Laurie Marquet has done his duty by referring it to the Supreme Court, he cannot act as an advocate because the government would be arguing against itself," he said.

Mr Colebatch said there was a well-established covenant that constitutional changes could not occur without exhaustive debate.

He said both arguments needed to be fairly heard, which would undoubtedly be costly.

Deputy Liberal leader Dan Sullivan said Mr McGinty had no choice but to fund the case against the legislation.

"We told the Premier nearly two months ago that the Supreme Court would require the contradictory argument to be made, and despite claiming that they were in a hurry to get the question resolved, the government ignored the warning," he said.

"Now we have Justice McKechnie telling Mr McGinty exactly the same thing.

"Will he be arrogant enough to ignore him as well?"

Shadow Attorney General Peter Foss said Justice McKechnie had shredded Mr McGinty's argument that this action was a challenge by the Opposition to the validity of the legislation, but instead was a matter of broad public importance.

The country alliance, which includes WAFarmers, the Pastoral and Graziers Association, National Party, Liberal Party, One Nation and independent members, has continued to work franticly towards Friday's hearing to establish how to best oppose Labor's electoral reform.

WAFarmers Colin Nicholl said the alliance was more confident that it had a strong case after last week's Supreme Court hearing.



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