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Adult franchise in local government in Western Australia

Taylor, Noela (1998) Adult franchise in local government in Western Australia. Masters by Research thesis, Murdoch University.

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Abstract

Adult franchise was introduced to local government elections in Western Australia in 1984 by the then Burke Labor Government to predictions of disaster and local government mismanagement by the then conservative Opposition.

After nine previously unsuccessful attempts, Western Australia became the last State in Australia to accord this right to vote to all its citizens. This tenth attempt was successful because the Government manipulated urban/rural council interests by offering differential rating power as a trade off for adult franchise.

The intention of this thesis is to demonstrate that the predictions made about the negative impact of adult franchise in the parliamentary debates prior to the legislative changes did not eventuate.

The historical background to the local government electoral system and the circumstances under which adult franchise was successfully introduced in 1984 are examined. This is done within the context of understanding the political ideologies which underpinned the respective positions of the Government and Opposition at the time of the parliamentary debates. Liberal democratic theory proposes that good government is inclusive government which embodies the right to vote for all. Conservative political theory on the other hand is based on the preposition that property ownership is a fundamental prerequisite for good government.

The study goes on to examine the impact of the electoral changes by analysing voter turnout throughout the State and examining similarities in and differences between socio-economic profiles, political affiliations, beliefs and attitudes of ratepaying and non-ratepaying councillors. Two case studies, one a large metropolitan council and the other a small rural council, demonstrate the outcomes of the electoral changes where most changes were predicted. It also shows that party politics have always played a role in local government elections.

In assessing the impact of adult franchise more than a decade after its introduction the study shows that conservative fears of a local government takeover by irresponsible non-property owning councillors have not materialised. The study adds weight to the liberal view of representative democracy that granting people the right to vote develops their sense of social responsibility and stimulates them to participate in political life.

Publication Type: Thesis (Masters by Research)
Murdoch Affiliation: Division of Business, Information Technology and Law
Supervisor(s): Collins, Hugh and Scott, Ian
URI: http://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/id/eprint/50895
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