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By Chas Underwood

This piece first appeared as a featured article in volume 95, issue two of Pelican. You can view our print archive here.

To say Wilson Tucker was “elected to the WA Legislative Council” in 2021 attributes a certain intentionality to the good folk of the Mining and Pastoral Region that is perhaps undue. For sure, Tucker did win the fifth available seat for the district, fair and square, in an election conducted scrupulously according to the laws of the day. But his constituents can only be said to have “elected” him in the sense they “elected” to stub their toes while walking past their coffee tables that morning. The people spoke, but it came out a bit funny and sounded better in their heads.

On the initial count, Tucker won 98 primary votes. There are serving UWA Guild councillors who won more than 98 primary votes last year. Tucker’s votes were 0.18% of all votes cast, only a little higher than the 0.13% of North Koreans who voted against Kim Jong Un’s candidates for city councils last year.

How did this happen? It happened because of problems in the contemporary method of allocating preferences, known as “group ticket voting”. I encourage readers to consult Antony Green’s excellent website for a more comprehensive account, but essentially the system gave parties undue power to control how their above-the-line votes flowed to other candidates once the party was eliminated from contention.

An alliance of minor parties, coordinated by Glenn Druery, arranged matters so any above-the-line vote for these parties would flow within the alliance. This did not necessarily advantage any particular minor party; rather, it improved the chances of minor parties as a collective. The arrangement ensured at least one alliance candidate had a decent shot at victory, even if it was unclear which member it would be. The bulk of Tucker’s votes actually came from the Greens, Legalise Cannabis and Shooters Fishers and Farmers once these parties had been ruled out.

Tucker’s victory came as a surprise to everyone, not least himself, for he was working in Seattle at the time and had to make a high stakes call on whether to pause his promising management career in software engineering to actually take the seat he had ostensibly been running for. Adding to the absurdity of the situation was the fact Tucker ran for the single-issue Daylight Savings Party, a cause that had not exactly been popular in Mining and Pastoral – opposed by farming and mining lobbies and rejected in the last four referendums.

For most outlets, this is where the story has stopped. That is not to say Tucker has never rated a mention again, but he’s often been framed as just “the daylight savings guy who won off 98 votes”. But dig a little deeper and there’s much more to say. It’s the story of someone who has had to step out from single-issue politics into a broader policy suite on the fly, without the resources available to major parties. Someone who most starkly illustrates the dilemma of having to balance faithfully representing your constituents with supporting the ideas you believe will do good. A politician with two life experiences virtually unheard of in Parliament – engineering software, and renting a house while in office – and drawing on both in his political activities.

I interviewed Wilson Tucker while he was attending a South Australian technology conference.

Chas Underwood: How is it in Adelaide?

Wilson Tucker: Good! I had a wedding over the weekend at Kangaroo Island and it combined nicely with Southstart, I think it’s the largest tech and innovation festival in Australia, has about 1200 people. I met the organisers when they went to West Tech Fest, which is WA’s flagship tech conference. There’s a contingent of WA businesses through Meshpoints, which has received some level of government funding. And they’re all just coming over here. It’s mostly people pitching to other people, and there’s VC funds trying to find startups, and there’s startups trying to find… and then there’s Wilson in the middle, just trying to talk to all the public sector workers and work out what the right policy settings are and what WA should be doing.

CU: You’ve been able to use your not-quite-so-typical politician background to come in and do something a little bit different.

WT: Absolutely. I think I’m the only one in the chamber with a computer science degree, and when you talk about issues of data privacy, or cloud computing, or cybersecurity, you’re generally met with quite a few glazed looks. I’ve been on a bit of a mission the last few years, trying to educate MPs, trying to bring the public and private sectors together as an opportunity to really diversify the economy.

CU: A lot of our audience are going to know you as Mr. Daylight Savings. That’s what you’re famous for, that’s what the prevailing media angle has been on you so far. But people might not know you’ve taken up a lot of different causes since actually coming into Parliament. Could you give us a rundown on what those non-daylight savings policies might be?

WT: To give some context with daylight saving, I always looked at it as a bit of a lifestyle issue. I was first and foremost this disgruntled Millennial that felt successive WA governments were dragging their feet on lifestyle issues. WA had its head in the sand, and daylight savings is one of those issues where predominantly younger people wanted it, but we were shut down because of this very change-agnostic environment that we have in WA. Since I’ve had the opportunity to really speak on the full breadth of everything else that’s going on in society, I’ve branched out and focused on things that resonate in that “lifestyle-esque” bubble, you could say. Things like the trading hours: we have the most restrictive trading hours in the country. Everyone who comes to WA has that story of coming into Perth City at 6 PM on a Thursday and seeing those metaphorical tumbleweeds just blowing down St. George’s Terrace, or trying to find a restaurant that’s open past 8 PM. We’re trying to get this vibrancy: we have the population, but why is it so dispersed and so quiet? Trading hours feels like an absolute no-brainer and a very low hanging fruit.

Other issues like the four-day working week as well: the prevailing sentiment in a lot of jurisdictions and the population is – especially after the pandemic with more location-agnostic working arrangements – the four-day working week is an inevitability that is coming to WA. We pride ourselves on a very relaxed lifestyle. We’ve got the weather and the culture to reflect that. A four-day working week lends itself well to who we are as a people. So I think it eventually will come. But the government can play a role in trying to market itself as this lifestyle state by embracing more flexible working practices.

The other one that is taking up a fair few of my brain cells is housing affordability, in particular the rental crisis. I think I’m the only renter in the upper house and maybe one of two in all the WA Parliament, which isn’t reflective of the 30% of the population who are renting. I’m leaning into my personal experience in this issue – I’ve certainly been on the receiving end of trying to find a house in Perth. Obviously, I’m in a more privileged position than many people, but it’s a very tough market to navigate. And WA was the rent-rise capital for a while – we had the smallest percentage of rental housing [vacancies] in the country for a while, this year and last year.

CU: To go a bit deeper into housing policy, one of the things you’ve been very big on is no-grounds evictions, WA being the only state that still allows them. And the Cook government, they’ve held firm on this, right? One of their arguments that interested me was: if you put these restrictions on landlords or reduce the amount of flexibility you have as a landlord for long-term rentals, there’s a risk that you push them into the short-term rental market or elsewhere. What are your thoughts on that line of argument?

WT: They’re red herrings really, and they’re designed to detract from the larger debate on the issue. We’ve heard those lines being repeated by the Cook government about painting Airbnb as the enemy, and they’re offering incentives to encourage people from short term to long term, and I think that is part of the problem. We need more supply. It’s a larger cohort of people who are renting for longer and there’s a larger percentage of people who don’t feel like they can ever break out of that rental mould. There are longer-term strategies trying to ease up that supply and stop the trickle-down effect of higher rental prices through supply and demand. While we have to acknowledge that people are renting for longer, that is something the government can control and should be addressing, rather than trying to paint Airbnb and short-stay as the bogeyman.

There are a lot of macro policies in place that have a much bigger impact and are more front of mind of people who are investing in the property market. Stamp duty, negative gearing, they’re all designed basically for people to invest in the property market, which is the largest capital asset for the majority of Australians, which is making it harder for the younger people who actually just want to get into the market and live there, as opposed to buying their seventh or eighth property.

The Australian Housing Urban Research Institute produced a report that showed that potentially when you tighten those laws slightly in favour of renters, it may give investors pause for thought, but it doesn’t cause disinvestment. And this flies in the face of what the West Australian government has been saying. [Note: The Cook government has in fact recently passed legislation allowing renters to own pets and make small changes to the property. Tucker may have intended to refer to what the government has said regarding no-grounds evictions. – CU] And they’re pointed to surveys conducted by REIWA, who are obviously with the side of landlords, and a Bankwest economic report which didn’t really give the government’s position much credence – the report said it needed to do more research on this point. [Note: Tucker is likely referring to the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre’s May 2023 report on housing affordability in WA. – CU] The West Australian government hasn’t done that research, but they will cherry pick what they need to suit their narrative. They tend to side with property developers and property investors more so than they do with renters, which is unfortunate because they are 30% of the population.

CU: One of your policies I’ve seen is phasing out stamp duty in favour of land tax. Could you talk a bit about how that might work?

WT: If you were to scrap something like stamp duty, move to land tax, there’s obviously a question of timing. On a very high level, it makes a lot of sense. Part of the position that we’re in now is where the state and federal governments threw a lot of incentives through grants for people to build houses. And now we’ve hit this crunch and we can’t even build houses. There’s a question of timing and trying to smooth that policy out and making sure it doesn’t have unintended consequences where you’re essentially subtracting that upfront price from the property market and then deflating it and allowing everyone to get in. The government has to be a lot more targeted when they throw these incentives to try and get people into the property market, as opposed to these broad sweeping policies that we’ve seen previously with those state grants. The data will show that there were a lot of property developers that were taking those up and people that were building multiple houses.

CU: You’ve been very open about the fact that you’re not working with the same resources as people in government or opposition have. How do you decide what policies to settle on when you don’t have as many resources for policy research?

WT: Yeah, it’s an interesting position to be in, being the leader of a single-issue party. You can’t spend four years just talking about daylight saving – as much as I’d like to –  there’s a lot of other issues. Now being an independent, [Note: Tucker became an independent in February 2023 after the Daylight Savings Party was deregistered. – CU] it does free you up from that narrative of just being Mr. 98 or the daylight savings guy. There’s an opportunity to reinvent yourself.

Given the numbers in the upper house, you are at the mercy of the government and their agenda in terms of what they bring on and whether you can affect the passage of a bill. It does allow for an opportunity to really choose your battles. The resources, as a single member, are quite limited. Especially when representing a region as large as Mining and Pastoral, which is one of the largest electorates in the world. And having to speak on everything to do with WA and our economy is a big task.

Having someone from my background and having this diversity of thought in Parliament is a good thing. Having a system where people can come from different backgrounds and have a platform to speak their mind and not come from the standard mould as career politicians, who toe the party line – that is a good thing for our system. We need more of that diversity of thought, diversity of opinion, and that contest of ideas in politics. Choose your battles, find things that resonate, and try to pick a few things and run with it, as opposed to trying to boil the ocean.

CU: How is the experience, as a non-government politician, in today’s parliamentary environment? Does the government treat you with respect? Do you get an actual say or do you feel a bit shut out of things?

WT: It can be frustrating. Under the Mark McGowan government, they were a lot more apathetic to the crossbench. They tended to just change the standing rules to suit their agenda, to streamline the process. There have been a few notable examples where the government has got egg on its face from ramming policy through as quick as they can, without giving consideration to the thoughts of the opposition or the crossbench. They’ve slowed down a little bit under the Cook government with some of the public backlash and pressure they’ve seen, particularly through the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill. But it is a frustrating experience. It’s unfortunate for our democracy in WA that the government doesn’t need to really listen to build consensus to get a mandate in parliament. But the job [of a parliamentarian] is quite multifaceted, and being in parliament and voting and speaking on bills is one aspect of it. There are other facets where you can have an impact, which I’ve spent the last three years trying to lean in to.

Committees are a very rewarding experience. The idea is you leave your political affiliations as best you can at the door, conduct an inquiry independently of government and your party’s platform, and trying to advocate for things behind the scenes. If you approach it from a position of not so much hostility, but cooperation, you can have those small wins. Those aren’t necessarily attributed back to Wilson Tucker as a person, but I never really signed up for this. You could describe me as the accidental politician, but now that I’m here, I’m trying to move the needle as best I can in the face of these overwhelming [Labor] numbers. Equal parts frustrating and rewarding. But the longer you stay in this role, the more you learn.

CU: I did want to go a bit deeper on committees. You’re on the Public Administration Committee. What’s that experience been like?

WT: It’s been really good. It’s Labor-dominated, but the members have acted in the spirit of the committee. We put the knives down and come up with some really good reports to date. We produced the St John Ambulance report, I think the government backed all the recommendations in principle, and then recently the organ donation inquiry and now the innovation inquiry, which is something that I personally care about and feel strongly about. The committee has been a very rewarding experience: it is somewhere you can have some input and a seat at the table. Recommendations, again, aren’t attributed back to the members. Fight Club rules apply to the committee, you can’t really speak about the committee, but it is something where an individual can affect some level of change in WA.

CU: You talked about being an accidental politician, someone who hasn’t come through that standard ex-lawyer production line, as a good thing. How could we promote more ordinary people in Parliament?

WT: It’s a good question. The system that I was elected on – group voting tickets – where I amalgamated 98 votes into a seat, there’s a balancing act, and I’ve said this in the chamber and public. The group voting tickets went a little bit too far lowering the bar to a level where it was quite easy for someone such as myself to walk off the street, find themselves in parliament and have a platform. It can be quite dangerous when you have people from the street in a position where they have a microphone and a public platform to spout their opinions. Certainly in the age of COVID, when I was elected. Those rules needed to be tightened up. There is a tension between [necessary tightening versus] going too far and really entrenching the two-party system. The group voting ticket changes – I was used as the reason for that change, but it was lumped in with several other electoral reforms. The government doesn’t pass through anything that they don’t know the consequences of: what they’ve done is [eliminated] this concept of regional representation. They’ve achieved voter equality on paper, but it will come at the expense of regional voices. Having more of a metro focus will suit Labor, they knew that. It’s quite a cynical move to entrench their incumbency – that move has gone too far. It is good to have that diversity of opinion, diversity of thought, and have a pathway for people to have a voice and not be the stale career politicians that we all know and love. But you need to have some safeguards, you need to have a public mandate to put people in a position where they have a voice and a seat at the table.

CU: The McGowan government’s line was it’s all about one vote, one value – that the regions were getting an outsized say compared to what their population was. Do you think that’s a fair comment?

WT: No. It sounds all well and good to have this level of voter equality on paper, but what is it ultimately serving? It was a shallow argument to suit their agenda. At the end of the day, my concern here is that populist, metro-based issues will get all the attention, because that’s where all the voters are. The regions, which are the economic powerhouse of the country, will get largely left out. And when it comes to election time – which we’re about to come into – you’re going to have 36 members who will be on the same ticket, trying to get some cut-through. It’s going to be those populist issues where all the voter base is, so they’re the ones that will get the funding, they’re the ones that will make all the noise and the regions will be left out.

CU: That takes me to the topic of your electorate. As you’ve said, it’s among the biggest in the world. How’s the experience of having to represent a land area that large?

WT: A lot of trips on planes, for sure. When I put my hand up for Mining and Pastoral, I didn’t really have a concept of how big it was. It is a beautiful place. We’re talking about the Kimberley, the northwest central, the Goldfields, and the Pilbara. It’s the engine room of WA and arguably Australia. As a single member, it is hard to service such a large place. All roads tend to lead back to Perth, so that’s where I’m largely based. But I spend as much time trying to get a pulse of what’s going on and travelling. It’s challenging trying to be everywhere and nowhere, but it’s unfortunate that we’re moving to this all-state electorate and a little bit disappointing that we won’t have these concepts of regions anymore. I’m privileged to represent the Mining and Pastoral region – it’s unfortunate that it will all cease to exist very soon.

CU: How do you balance your policy judgement with what your electorate favours?

WT: There’s certainly issues that resonate with me as a person and my background – this inquiry, for example, into innovation. My background is in computer science and software engineering – that is something that the average person in the Pilbara probably doesn’t care about as much as I do. But it’s something where, based on my expertise, I can have an impact on that issue and hopefully move the needle for the state. But there’s certainly regional issues people are raising directly, where Wilson Tucker doesn’t have that much personal experience with. If I gauge that it is something that most people in Mining and Pastoral care about, then it is something I’ll spend some time to look into, such as gun laws, for example. And that’s why travelling out to the regions is important – you have the finger on the pulse and can really gauge what people care about. I wouldn’t say there’s a definite math to this, it’s something I’m still figuring out three years on.

CU: You mentioned gun laws there as one of the things that your constituents in the region have brought up? What are their concerns on this front?

WT: In Australia, we have a very stable government, which is fantastic, but we do have a lot of restrictive laws as well. Particularly in WA, the government is prone to be quite conservative and very risk adverse. And they tend to paint these bogeymen in the community to try to distract people. Bikies and gun laws go hand in hand, the Premier and the Minister love to put media statements out and say that we have rampant gun problems. But if you talk to gun owners or people in gun clubs, they certainly have a different opinion: they’re trying to participate in the sport they love or just trying to shoot on their property. They’re facing gun restrictions that just keep getting tighter and tighter under this government.

I take quite a cynical view of what the government is doing and why they’re doing it. I’ve got a background in computer science, so I’m very data driven: show me the data, show me the evidence. When we talk about gun laws, the reasoning for tightening them doesn’t seem to be justified. I’ve spoken on bills that the government has raised on this issue, but I wouldn’t say I have a firm policy position. It’s more in response to what I hear leading up to a certain bill.

CU: Are you going to run for re-election next year?

WT: I get asked that question every day and I don’t have a good answer. I’ve been discussing this with a few parties – running on the independent ticket, it would be quite challenging to get a seat, given the reform that we’re going to experience in the next term. I’m certainly open to rerunning, and having that balance – well, hopefully we have that balance – in the upper house will be a rewarding experience. The other option is going off into the darkness in the private sector. So I don’t have a good answer for you, but it’s something I’m considering.

Being an independent does free you up from short-termism and the political cycle. It does drain a lot of time and energy for career politicians who don’t have that fallback plan. They end up fighting for political survival as opposed to representing their constituents. For myself, I’m sort of the reluctant MP. Not having to go through pre-selection is ultimately a good thing – I’m not having to have all these discussions within my own party to try to get to the top of the ticket, at any expense, and then promise and pork barrel and throw money around.

If it doesn’t work out, that’s fine. But if I do get re-elected, then I’m going to do my best to try and represent the people that I was put there to represent. I think not having a good answer right now is probably a good thing.

CU: You mentioned you’re talking to a couple of parties. Would you be willing to say who those parties are?

WT: The Democratic Labour Party achieved registration, Sustainable Australia as well. I don’t think the [Australian] Democrats made it, but I was having a few discussions with them. It’s mostly those smaller parties who could hopefully pick up that 2.6% quota [to be elected in 2025] and get a foot in the door. But if I were to join one of those parties then I have to agree with their policies, their ideology and their position. Just getting on the top of the ticket isn’t my motivation, I would join them if I felt that their platform and my platform were aligned.

CU: I’ve seen a few profiles on you but not this exact question – how did your colleagues react when you told them you were going back to become a politician in Australia?

WT: There were a few confused looks. There were quite a few Aussies that were working at [my employer] Expedia at the time – they kind of got it. For the Americans who didn’t quite understand the Westminster system over in Australia, it took a bit more explaining. I had this thought about keeping my foot in the door by continuing work in the private sector in a remote position, trying to be a politician by day and a software engineering manager by night. But I got some good advice from my manager who said, “Look, Wilson, you have this tendency to try and do everything, but if you take this opportunity, you have to really just focus on this opportunity”.

CU: It sounds like if you’d taken that arrangement, you would have been literally working around the clock.

WT: Yeah, that’s right. The time zone in WA would have been quite challenging.

CU: Thank you very much for making the time for Pelican, Mr. Tucker.

WT: No worries, Chas. Good to chat.

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