Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

Western Australia: January to June 2004

Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

Western Australia: January to June 2004

Article excerpt

The first six months of 2004 witnessed a series of keen pre-selection battles in the major political parties as elections loomed at both the federal and state level for late 2004 or early 2005. According to Newspoll in The Australian (5 July 2004), both the Labor Party and Coalition remained steady with first preferences at 38 per cent and 42 per cent respectively, and the Greens at 7 per cent for the April and June period. The Westpoll (19 June 2004) readings for June were higher with Labor at 45 per cent, the Coalition at 44 per cent and Greens 6 per cent. One Nation and the Australian Democrats both registered at one per cent. Premier Geoff Gallop maintained a clear lead over Colin Barnett in the preferred premier stakes. Surprisingly, poll support for Labor had not fallen during a major electricity blackout in mid February when the government forced the Chief Executive Officer of Western Power to resign. The long-awaited Kennedy Police Royal Commission report was tabled without altering the poll readings, as was the case with the State Budget.

Budget

Details of the government's budget became known to the public before its parliamentary tabling on 6 May by Treasurer Eric Ripper. The West Australian had published key components two days before its official release, which was scheduled ahead of the 11 May Federal Budget. This prompted an investigation to determine whether breaches of the Public Sector Management Act and the WA Criminal Code had occurred.

In macro-economic terms, though, most of the news was good with economic growth predicted at 6.75 per cent and unemployment to fall from 6 per cent to 5.75 per cent. With the benefit of an additional unexpected $231 million Grants Commission allocation from Canberra, it followed that the state could maintain its much heralded Triple A investment status.

In what the government labelled a "Families First" budget (drawing a "Business Last" retort from Ross McLean at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry), there were no increases in electricity, public transport, water rates, car registration and driver's license fees. The forecast reductions in stamp duty were delivered, accompanied by the abolition of such duty for first home buyers on houses worth less than $220,000. The Police Services budget was increased by over 8 per cent, Health by 5.4 per cent and Education and Training by 3.1 per cent. The government, according to budget figures, planned a record $3.9 billion on capital works projects. On the down side was the forecast increase in state debt, much of which could be put down to a $1.5 billion expansion of Perth's rail network, including the controversial Perth to Mandurah rail line.

Parliament

The 2004 parliamentary year was associated with the centennial of the building of Parliament House and the 175th anniversary of the foundation of British settlement in Western Australia. A People's Day was conducted on Sunday 4 April after the Legislative Assembly had held an inaugural regional sitting at Albany between 23 and 24 March. A Citizens' Guide to the Parliament and an electronic virtual tour of parliament were also launched in this period. On 30 March the Parliamentary Library was recommissioned on the Harvest Terrace wing of parliament (its home from 1904 to 1964). Meanwhile, in April "Solidarity Park", Perth's unofficial "workers embassy", situated opposite the southern entrance to the parliament, was listed as a heritage site.

In early April there were media reports of a move by Attorney-General Jim McGinty to introduce into the Legislative Assembly a proposal to delete specific references to God in various oaths, affirmations, affidavits and statutory declarations. The Bill had originally been moved in the Legislative Assembly on 4 December 2003 and was based on recommendations of the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia. However, claims by McGinty of initial support for the legislation appeared to be ill founded and the government did not attempt to progress the Bill. …

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