Barnaby Joyce has dismissed a call from the Western Australian state Nationals for him to stand down, bluntly telling their leader they are irrelevant to the issue.
WA Nationals leader Mia Davies contacted Joyce on Tuesday to tell him he no longer had the support of the WA parliamentary National Party as the Nationals’ federal leader.
Davies said in a statement she was concerned as WA leader at the “ongoing damage” Joyce was causing the Nationals’ organisation.
“The Nationals’ brand across regional Western Australia has suffered as a result of Mr Joyce’s actions and he has become a distraction at both the federal and state level,” she said.
The state MPs urged him to consider his position “in the best interests” of both the federal party and its state branches, believing that position “no longer tenable”.
In his reply Joyce pointed out the WA Nationals didn’t have a federal MP – their last member (Tony Crook) spent his time “almost exclusively as an independent”. The WA Nationals were also not in a state coalition and prided themselves on “their ferocious independence”, he said.
“Therefore I find it surprising that a federal issue has so much momentum in the west when people in the east in the National Party have in the majority a different view – and to be quite frank, vastly more skin in the game,” he said.
The state Nationals in Victoria and New South Wales are staying out of the battle within the federal party, with Victorian leader Peter Walsh saying: “The federal leadership of the National Party is a matter for the federal partyroom”.
The Nationals crisis was no closer to resolution on Tuesday. If anyone wants to challenge Joyce next week there will have to be a move for a special party meeting because some senators will be missing from the routine Monday meeting, given that Senate estimates hearings are on.
By making it clear he would have to be blasted out, Joyce has transferred the burden of a leadership change squarely onto his colleagues, a number of whom had hoped he would just go quietly, saving them angst.
Resources Minister Matt Canavan, a strong Joyce supporter, said Joyce had the majority of support in the partyroom. “They see first-hand what he has done here in Canberra, the fights he takes up for us on our behalf, sometimes difficult ones to deliver big projects.”
“It’s my assessment the vast majority of my colleagues want to see Barnaby there and want to see him fight for regional Australia,” he said.
Canavan employed Joyce’s former staffer and now partner Vikki Campion when the Joyce office was seeking to move her on because her relationship with her boss was causing difficulties. Asked on Sky whether at that time he knew she was having an affair with Joyce, Canavan said: “Absolutely not”.
Campion had got the job on her skills and experience, Canavan said. “We were looking to expand our digital media presence.”
NSW Nationals senator John Williams said the feedback he was getting was that “you must stick with Barnaby” and that people were “over the media running [the story] all the time”.
In the US – for which Malcolm Turnbull leaves on Wednesday – comedian John Oliver has ridiculed the Joyce saga on his show Last Week Tonight. Joyce was already comedy fodder in America after his colourful threats to euthanise Johnny Depp’s dogs after they were brought to Australia illegally.
Party leaders are critical to their party’s performance, and arguably have become even more so in an age in which voter loyalties have frayed and partisanship is on the wane.
It is for these reasons that a government’s electoral defeat is often the catalyst for vanquished premiers and prime ministers to stand aside from the leadership of their party and to quit the parliament.
This is not a legal or constitutional requirement, nor is it necessarily an expectation held by voters. Rather, it is more akin to an informal rule that is invoked following a government’s defeat so as to clear the path for the incoming leadership team.
The reasons why such a practice exist was recently brought into sharp focus when the former Western Australian premier, Colin Barnett, found himself at the centre of calls from the Liberals’ new leader, Mike Nahan, and some media commentators, to quit the parliament. Barnett rejected these suggestions.
The question of whether a former premier has an obligation to resign depends in part on what one thinks the role of a political representative is, and to whom they owe their allegiance. For those who have sympathy for the partisan model of representation, former leaders should generally quit the parliament if this is what their party asks of them.
However, for those who subscribe to the view that elected representatives have obligations to the wider community (trustee model) or to the constituency that directly elected them (delegate model), then there is a much stronger case to be made for them serving out their full term, regardless of their former status within parliament.
The partisan model
The partisan model of representation would suggest that Barnett should quit the parliament, if this is desired by his party, in order to bring renewal within their ranks or help refocus the team following defeat.
This model positions the elected member as agents of the party, who owe a duty to their party because of the support they received and the opportunities that their party provided for them. Elected members are expected to place the party interest ahead of personal interests.
On these grounds, the Liberals have a strong case against Barnett remaining in parliament.
Barnett has not gone quietly into the night. Rather, he has caused the new leadership team embarrassment by arguing that his premiership was hamstrung by an under-performing second-term cabinet, some of whom remain in parliament.
Moreover, with the Liberals reduced to 13 members in a 59-seat chamber, and Barnett holding a safe seat, his exit would allow the party to refresh their ranks at a time when they are trying to rebuild.
Barnett the trustee?
If we treat Barnett as a trustee, then the logic favours that he should stay in parliament until such time as his conscience moves him to quit.
Under the trustee model, elected members are expected to be guided by their concern for the broader interests of the state. Once elected, the decision about how that member should serve these interests falls to the discretion of the member.
On this basis, Barnett can reasonably argue that he is an experienced legislator who still has much to contribute to the parliament and to the state.
Moreover, the high financial costs and general disruption associated with holding a byelection without proper cause is not advantageous to the people of the Western Australia.
An elected delegate
The delegate model requires the elected member to act according to the wishes of those who elected them. Unlike the trustee model, such assessments are not for the MP to make, but only after careful consideration of the views of the electorate.
Based on this model, only the voters in Barnett’s seat of Cottesloe are fit to make any such decision about his future and, arguably, they have already done so when they re-elected him in 2017.
Barnett’s claims in this regard are strengthened because he was elected on first preference votes (56.67%), and because he made clear his intention to remain in parliament regardless of the outcome of the election. This would suggest that Barnett’s electorate supported his reelection full in the knowledge of his future intentions.
Thus, in the absence of any actions that would render Barnett unfit or unable to serve under the WA Constitution, the logic of the delegate model supports his remaining in parliament.
The ultimate decision-maker
In the end, the decision about Barnett’s future in parliament is for him to make.
Neither the people of Cottesloe nor his own party can force him to resign. The Liberals can expel him from the party, but this does not solve the problem because what Barnett has said cannot be unsaid, and he may prove more of a distraction if freed from his partisan bonds.
Yet what this incident, and others similar to it underline, is that any such disagreement over whether former leaders should remain in parliament often boils down to different views about to whom they are ultimately beholden.
At the Western Australian election held 11 March, Labor won a landslide in the lower house, winning 41 of the 59 seats. However, in the upper house Labor and the Greens combined won 18 of the 36 seats, one short of an outright majority. There were two reasons for the left’s underperformance in the upper house: malapportionment in favour of rural regions and the group voting ticket system.
There are six upper house regions, three in Perth and three in the rest of WA. Each region elects six members to the upper house, so the quota is 1/7 of the vote, or 14.3%.
I wrote here that Perth only has half the upper house seats despite having 77% of the state’s population. However, the problem is worse than this. As Antony Green wrote, a voter in the deeply conservative Agricultural region has almost 4 times the weight of a Perth voter. A voter in the Mining & Pastoral region, which is becoming more conservative, has almost six times the weight of a Perth voter.
At this election, about 49,000 formal votes were recorded in Mining & Pastoral region, 88,000 in Agricultural region and 194,000 in South West region. The three metropolitan regions had at least 334,000 formal votes each, more than the non-Perth regions combined.
Although Labor’s vote improved across the state from 2013, Labor and the Greens combined won two of the six seats in Agricultural region, and just barely three of the six in Mining & Pastoral. In all other regions, Labor and the Greens easily won at least three of the six seats per region. Here is the final upper house results table. Vote shares and changes from 2013 are from Wikipedia.
The table shows the effect of malapportionment, with the Nationals, who only contested the non-Perth regions, winning as many seats as the Greens on half the Greens’ vote. Others in the table are the Shooters in Agricultural region and the Liberal Democrats in South Metro.
If all the non-Perth regions (South West, Agricultural and Mining & Pastoral) were combined, and non-Perth representaion reduced to six, Labor would have won 2.30 quotas, the Liberals 1.44, the Nationals 1.26, One Nation 0.80, the Greens 0.44 and the Shooters 0.33.
With One Nation short of a quota, so they would soak up right wing votes, and Labor’s surplus going heavily to the Greens, the Greens would have been likely to defeat the Liberals for the final seat, resulting in Labor 2, Liberals, Nationals, One Nation and Greens one each outside Perth, rather than the actual result of Labor/Greens 8, all Others 10.
There were three cases where a candidate who did not deserve to win won through the artificial preference flows under the group voting system, which is still used in WA. In Agricultural region, the Shooters, with 0.40 quotas, defeated One Nation with 0.82. In East Metro, One Nation, with 0.56 quotas, defeated the 2nd Liberal, who had 0.75 quotas. So much for some people’s theories that One Nation would not benefit from group voting tickets.
Most disappointing for the left, in South Metro the Liberal Democrats, with 0.27 quotas, defeated the Greens with 0.65 quotas. In that region, the Liberal Democrats were to the left of the Liberals on the ballot paper, and won 3.9% of the vote mostly due to name confusion. In all other regions, the Liberal Democrats were to the right of the Liberals, and won about 1%.
The table below represents what I think would have happened had the current Senate system been used for the WA upper house, and the malapportionment removed.
This would give Labor and the Greens 14 of the 24 seats. In this scenario the Greens would win four seats, to one for One Nation. This may seem unfair on One Nation, but the Greens benefited from Labor surpluses, while the Liberals had no surpluses to spare to help One Nation. Individual “Others” did not receive many votes, and none would have won if not for the artificial preference flows that only happen when parties, not voters, direct preferences.
In the WA upper house, the President can only vote to break a tie. If Labor can persuade a non-Labor/Greens member to take the Presidency, Labor and the Greens would have 18 of the 35 votes on the floor. If a Labor member takes the Presidency, Labor will need the Greens and one vote from a right wing member to pass legislation.
One Nation thought it could smell sweet electoral success for much of the Western Australian state election campaign.
The party had reason to be confident about its prospects, despite the recent debacle concerning Rod Culleton, the former One Nation and later independent senator found ineligible to stand for parliament.
The party’s founder, Pauline Hanson, had resumed the leadership mantle and had emerged as a high-profile deal-maker in the Senate. Hanson used her profile to support her “down-to-earth, upfront and honest grassroots” candidates by making frequent visits to the state during the campaign.
Polls had the party as resurgent and on track to win up to 13% of the primary vote.
On the strength of its strong performance in the polls, both major parties were reported to have been jostling for One Nation’s preferences. It was the Liberals that sealed the deal in the end. Liberal leader Colin Barnett was unapologetic, even if “uncomfortable”, about the decision.
This deal was significant for One Nation.
The preference pact had the potential to enhance the electoral prospects of One Nation candidates contesting upper house regions.
The deal was also important because it signalled that One Nation was no longer a political pariah. Former Liberal prime minister John Howard defended the preference deal with One Nation on the grounds that “everyone changes in 16 years”. And high-profile Liberal senator Arthur Sinodinos argued One Nation are “a lot more sophisticated”.
But the party’s supposed new-found sophistication was rarely on show during the campaign.
Hanson applauded Russian President Vladimir Putin for his patriotism and strong-man persona, but paradoxically likened a policy that made eligibility for certain forms of family payments and childcare benefits contingent on parents vaccinating their children as akin to living in a dictatorship.
“Bloody lefties” within the education system were denounced as the cause of social problems that were afflicting regional towns. Muslims were accused of having “no respect” for Australia, and making preparations to eventually overthrow Australian governments.
The party struggled to contain its candidates. Two were disendorsed and two more resigned during the campaign. Four days before polling day, two former high-ranking party officials who were sacked from the party went public with their decision to take legal action against Hanson for age discrimination.
And three days before the election, there were concerns the party’s how-to-vote cards were not legally compliant.
In a final blow to an already chaotic campaign, Hanson declared the preference deal it had struck with the Liberals had likely done the party “damage”.
What cost the preference deal?
Certainly the result reveals that One Nation failed to perform as strongly as the early opinion polls had predicted. With 67.25% of the lower house vote counted, One Nation attracted only 4.74% of primary votes.
What then does this all mean? Was the preference deal a mistake for One Nation? Can a so-called anti-establishment party enter into a preference deal with an establishment party and survive to tell the story? The prevailing opinion is “no”.
However, let’s consider the claims that have been levelled about the preference deal. The main claim is the preference deal was the primary cause of One Nation’s electoral woes.
There is definitely polling data which shows many voters were opposed to the deal. What is less clear is if this opposition translated into action at the ballot box. If, for example, we calculate (or average) One Nation’s primary vote according to the actual number of lower house seats it contested, then its primary vote is around 8.26%.
While this figure is well short of the early double-digit polling results tipped for One Nation, it suggests that its support did hold up (and this is in spite of an electoral campaign that was chaotic and ill-disciplined).
The second general claim is the idea that a preference deal for either party under any circumstances is tantamount to electoral suicide.
Again, this argument might be something of a stretch. What appeared to actually blight this agreement was the particular electoral and political dynamics that surrounded it, and not the mere fact of a deal being negotiated between the two parties.
The Liberals struck a preference deal that favoured One Nation over its historical alliance partner, the Nationals. While the Liberals might have been justified by its decision, it ultimately proved very difficult to square with the conservative base more generally. The preference deal made a desperate party appear even more desperate.
One Nation agreed to a preference deal with the Liberals even though it proposed the partial privatisation of the electricity utility, a policy One Nation rejected. The planned privatisation of the utility was deeply unpopular, opposed by as many as 61% of voters.
In spite of its protestations to the contrary, One Nation had hitched its wagon to one of the most controversial policy issues of the entire campaign.
It could be argued that under different conditions, this preference deal need not have generated as much collateral damage as this one seems to have caused.
Any damage arising from this preference deal to One Nation is likely to prove fleeting. The party is on track to win two seats in the Legislative Council, most likely with the assistance of Liberal preferences.
In the end, the real danger for One Nation lies not with who it chooses to enter into preference deals with, but how it manages it internal affairs, and the conduct of its elected members – especially its leader.
Labor has won the 2017 Western Australian election in a landslide, sweeping aside the long-running Barnett government and installing Labor’s Mark McGowan as the state’s 30th premier.
The ABC is predicting Labor will win 40 seats, doubling its current number of seats held and providing it with a clear majority.
The Liberals look to have held only 14 of their 30 seats, while the Nationals appear to have held five of their seven lower house seats. Several seats technically remain in doubt.
Labor’s victory is Perth-based. Thirty-five of the 40 predicted seats it won are based in the metropolitan area. Within the three non-metropolitan regions, Labor has held Kimberley and Albany, and likely picked up only three seats – Bunbury, Collie-Preston, Murray-Wellington. All, except Kimberley, are in the state’s south-west.
State-wide, the One Nation vote in the Legislative Assembly is only 4.7%. It looks like One Nation could win two seats in the Legislative Council, one in Mining and Pastoral and the other in the south-west. This is below the results expected prior to Pauline Hanson’s disastrous trip to WA.
A drover’s dog type of election?
This was an election where the vote was driven by dislike of the sitting government, rather than attraction to the opposition.
It’s rare for a party to gain a third term in WA, and the Barnett government has been trailing in the polls for some time. In particular, as the face of his government, Premier Colin Barnett is deeply unpopular across the state.
The election day ReachTEL poll of 2,573 voters, published in The West Australian, had Labor on a two-party-preferred vote of 54% to 46%. Of those planning to vote Labor, 27.2% said their main reason was that “It’s time for a change of government”, and 16.3% said “I don’t like Colin Barnett”.
Mark McGowan: WA’s new premier
McGowan will become premier after surviving a somewhat bizarre challenge on his leadership last March by former federal Labor minster Stephen Smith.
In the strained economic circumstances in which WA finds itself, it is difficult to run a campaign full of expensive promises. The most high-profile of Labor’s policies was its declaration that it would not sell Western Power, which the government hoped to use to reduce state debt by around A$8 billion.
The Metronet rail network plan gained a place in the public imagination during the 2013 campaign. The basics of the plan survived Labor’s defeat at the last state election as it remained popular within the electorate, providing a clear alternative plan to the changing positions of the Barnett government.
Labor cleverly claimed it would fund Metronet by cancelling the Perth Freight Link, which includes the deeply unpopular Roe 8 extension, and diverting the federal funding from that project to Metronet.
Colin Barnett’s defeat is a tale of a tin ear
The key issues in this election have tended to be economic in nature. WA’s unemployment rates, high state debt, high cost of living, and predicted budget deficits, have not instilled confidence in voters.
The outgoing premier’s last appeal to voters was “please don’t vote for a return to Dullsville” that ended with the old argument that the unions would be in control under Labor.
Given the economic uncertainty, it was a strange plea. Many voters are more concerned with being able to pay their mortgage than take advantage of the improvements to city.
Barnett’s fundamental problem is that while his government has transformed Perth over the last eight years, voters are more concerned with their own economic circumstances, and the benefits of large infrastructure projects have not resonated.
It’s a hard sell to convince people that while the significant economic downturn over the last four years is due to circumstances the government can’t control, the government can nonetheless be trusted to turn the state’s fortunes around.
Brendan Grylls distinguishes the Nationals from the Liberals
Outside of Perth, Brendan Grylls appears to have saved the Nationals from oblivion.
Grylls is responsible, through the Royalties for Regions program, for differentiating the Nationals from the Liberals. While the swing against the Liberals is projected to be around 16%, the swing against the Nationals is projected to be less than 1%.
The fact the Nationals have held their ground is impressive on two fronts. The first was the threat One Nation posed outside the metro area.
The other is that the WA Chamber of Minerals and Energy spent around $2 million campaigning against Grylls’ proposal of raising the 25 cent per tonne production rental fee on iron ore to $5, which would deliver an estimated $7.2 billion over the next four years.
Grylls is the member for Pilbara, having moved from the seat of Central Wheatbelt in the 2013 election. The tax policy was high risk, particularly for Grylls himself given that much of WA’s mining happens in his seat.
While the plan seems to have worked in the agricultural parts of the state, the count will continue in the mining seats of Pilbara and Kalgoorlie, which are too close to call.
What the eastern states can learn from the result
In terms of the WA election having federal implications for the Turnbull government, this really was an election determined by local issues.
During the campaign Bill Shorten visited three times, while Malcolm Turnbull made only one fleeting visit, where he failed to deliver a plan to get WA a “fair” share of the GST.
While it is generally not opportune for a national governing party to lose at state level, only internal mischief-makers would try to blame the loss on Turnbull’s leadership.
The most significant issues that will resonate across the country will be the outcome of the preference deal with One Nation, and the ability of the Nationals to differentiate themselves so convincingly from the Liberals.
With 67% of enrolled voters counted in yesterday’s Western Australian election, the ABC’s election computer was giving Labor 36 of the 59 lower house seats, to 11 Liberals and 5 Nationals. Of the seven doubtful seats, I expect the Liberals to overtake narrow current Labor leads in two seats on late counting. If that happens, Labor will win 38 seats to 21 for the Liberals and Nationals, a reversal of the 2013 result (38 Liberal/Nationals, 21 Labor).
Primary vote shares were 42.8% for Labor (up 9.7 points since the 2013 election), 31.4% for the Liberals (down a massive 15.7 points), 5.4% for the Nationals (down 0.7), 8.5% for the Greens (up 0.1), a disappointing 4.7% for One Nation and 7.2% for all Others (up 1.9). As post-election day votes are processed, I expect Labor’s share to drop slightly, and the Liberals and Greens to slightly improve.
No statewide two party result has been provided by the Electoral Commission, and this will not be known until after all other results are finalised.
At the time of One Nation’s last peak from 1998-2001, they won 9.6% at the 2001 WA election. After polling in the 12-13% range early in the campaign, One Nation’s vote slumped to 7-9% in the final polls. Polls may have overestimated One Nation as they were only standing in 35 of 59 lower house seats.
There were two reasons for One Nation’s loss of support late in the campaign. First, the preference deal with the Liberals damaged their brand: it is hard to be an anti-establishment party if you deal with an established major party. Second, One Nation’s policies received more exposure in the closing days, causing some One Nation supporters who disagreed with the party’s far right agenda to desert.
The preference deal with One Nation also had dire consequences for the Liberals. While the Liberals were behind prior to the deal, it did not appear that Labor would win a landslide before the deal was announced. The fallout from this deal will mean that the Coalition parties and One Nation, in other states and federally, will be more reluctant to trade preferences.
Barnett was deeply unpopular, WA’s economy was weak, and the unpopular Federal government was a drag. These factors made a Labor win probable, but the deal with One Nation probably exacerbated the Liberals’ losses.
This will be Labor’s first true landslide in any state or federally since 2006, when Labor had landslide wins in Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania. By “landslide”, I mean not just defeating the opposition, but thrashing them in both seat and vote terms. That Labor won a big victory in the most conservative state at Federal level will make it even sweeter for them.
Polling appears to have underestimated the Greens and Labor’s primary votes a little, and overestimated One Nation. Galaxy and Newspoll had the Liberals and Nationals about right, but ReachTEL overestimated their vote.
Fluoride Free could win a seat in WA upper house
While 67% of enrolled voters for the lower house have been tallied, only 47% has been counted in the upper house. The WA upper house is severely malapportioned, and still uses the group voting ticket system that was abolished in the Senate.
Using the group voting tickets, the ABC is currently predicting Labor to win 15 of 36 upper house seats (up 4 since 2013), the Liberals 9 (down 8), the Nationals 4 (down 1), the Greens 3 (up 1), Shooters 2 (up 1) and One Nation, Liberal Democrats and Fluoride Free are currently predicted to win one seat each.
The ABC currently gives one seat to Daylight Saving, but Kevin Bonham spotted an error. The Daylight Saving candidate in Mining and Pastoral region is actually the Shooters candidate.
With the upper house count well behind the lower house count, these results may change. However, currently Fluoride Free is winning a seat in East Metro region on just 0.35%. A quota is 1/7 of the vote, or 14.3%.
The West Australian election will be held today. Polls close at 6pm local time (9pm Melbourne time). All three polls taken in the last week give Labor a 54-46 lead, which would represent an 11 point swing to Labor since the 2013 election. If this polling is accurate, Labor leads the combined Liberal/National total on primary votes. Here is the WA final poll table.
The last Newspoll was taken in late January. Primary votes in this Newspoll were Labor 41% (up 3), Liberals 32% (up 2), Nationals 5% (steady) One Nation 8% (down 5) and Greens 7% (down 2). 34% (up 2) were satisfied with Premier Colin Barnett’s performance, and 57% (steady) were dissatisfied, for a net approval of -23. Opposition leader Mark McGowan had a net approval of +5, down 7 points. 54% thought Labor would win, with 27% backing the Liberals.
The last ReachTEL was taken for Fairfax on 27 February. After excluding 3.5% undecided, this ReachTEL has primary votes of Labor 41.8% (up 6.6), Liberals 33.9% (down 0.7), Nationals 6.0% (down 0.8), One Nation 6.8% (down 1.7) and Greens 6.5% (down 4.2). 61% thought the Liberals should not have entered a preference deal with One Nation, with only 22% in favour.
The only Galaxy poll since the last election was published last Sunday. It had primary votes of Labor 40%, Liberals 31%, Nationals 5%, One Nation 9% and Greens 8%.
On better Premier, McGowan led Barnett 45-37 in Newspoll, 56.5-43.5 in ReachTEL and 46-33 in Galaxy.
Much of Labor’s strong primary vote is coming at the expense of the Greens. Greens preferences help Labor in two party terms, so Labor will not do as well from preferences with a low Green primary.
It appears that the preference deal between the Liberals and One Nation has damaged both parties. From a peak of 12-13%, One Nation’s vote has slumped to 7-9%. The Liberals started the campaign behind, and this deal was an attempt to win One Nation lower house preferences. It is now likely that the Liberals will lose by a greater margin than if they had avoided this deal.
There may be shy One Nation voters, but neither ReachTEL nor Newspoll use live phone interviews. ReachTEL is a robopollster, while Newspoll uses robopolling and online panel methods.
Tasmanian EMRS poll: Liberals slump to 35%
A Tasmanian EMRS poll, conducted 1-4 March from a sample of 1000, has the Liberals on 35% (down 5 since November), Labor on 29% (up 1), the Greens on 19% (up 1), Independents on 10% (down 1) and One Nation on 6%.
Kevin Bonham says that EMRS skews to the Greens and Independents and against Labor. He interprets this poll as having primaries of 37% Liberal, 33% Labor, 16% Greens and 6% One Nation. Under Tasmania’s Hare Clark system, this poll would result in a hung Parliament with the Greens holding the balance of power; Bonham thinks 11 Liberals, 10 Labor, 4 Greens the most likely result.
No approval ratings are provided, but Premier Will Hodgman has a massive 52-20 lead over Labor’s Bryan Green as better Premier. Although better Premier is skewed in favour of the incumbent, the lead should not be this huge on a poll that would result in a Labor/Greens parliamentary majority. It is likely that Green’s lack of popularity is driving this disparity.
The past four years have not been kind to Western Australia. Coming off a once-in-a-lifetime boom, the bust, which for some reason the state always forgets to anticipate, is cutting deep, and it’s proving a problem for the Barnett-led Coalition government.
It’s worse in some remote parts of the state, where property prices have dropped by up to 75% over the last three years.
For those who have maintained their jobs, many are still in a worse financial position as bonuses and other financial incentives from the boom dry up. Others managing to find employment now have reduced salaries.
The public education system has increased its share of the students in each of the last five years. Part of this rise has been attributed to the downturn in the economy, as people divert money from school fees to the mortgage and other essentials. This in turn adds costs to the state budget.
Who’s responsible for this situation?
During his two terms, Premier Colin Barnett has projected the image of a leader in control. Treasurers have come and gone, and most ministers have minimal presence in the media. Barnett is the face of the government, and he bares the brunt of a scared and angry population, wondering what happened to his 2009 promise of a 20-year boom with growth of 5-7% a year.
During the recent leaders’ debate on February 22, Barnett pointed to his government’s investment in schools and health, with construction of the Fiona Stanley and new Perth Children’s hospitals. The latter has yet to open and is now more than a year behind schedule.
Labor leader Mark McGowan is running an old-fashioned scare campaign claiming prices will rise if the monopoly is sold. Energy prices have long been contentious in Western Australia, with the Barnett government overseeing a 67% price increase for households since 2009, admittedly off an artificially low base. McGowan is arguing the state should not sell off a revenue-generating monopoly to deal with the debt.
The second issue is public transport. The Barnett government has broken promises to deliver improved services to the outer suburbs of Perth, in places such as Ellenbrook.
The government’s key 2013 election transport promise of Max light-rail was abandoned as the state’s economic situation deteriorated.
Labor has resurrected its highly popular Metronet rail plan from the last election. Federal leader Bill Shorten is promising to help fund the plan should Labor return to government at the national level.
The costs of Metronet appear rubbery at the moment, but WA Labor is also planning to divert federal funding from the controversial Roe 8 highway.
While Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has stated the Commonwealth will not allow the diversion of funds, McGowan is pointing to the success of the Victorian Labor government in cancelling the East-West Link and using the funding for other projects.
WA is also seeing an increase in crime, some of which is linked to the so-called ice epidemic. Both parties are promising to be tough on crime. The Liberals are promising mandatory sentencing and Labor is advocating a maximum sentence of life for meth dealers.
During his blink-and-you-miss-it trip west, Turnbull disappointed Liberals with his lack of a plan to provide WA with its fair share of GST. Barnett has been campaigning on this issue for years, and the claimed A$4.7 billion annual shortfall in funds would help with the budget deficit.
Just how big is the swing to Labor?
There are 59 seats in the Legislative Assembly. The Liberals go into the election holding 30 seats and the Nationals seven, for a total of 37. Labor holds 21 seats. There’s one independent, former Liberal minister Rob Johnson.
Polling has been somewhat inconsistent. A ReachTEL poll for The West Australian on February 19 showed a two-party-preferred (TPP) result of 50-50. The two previous polls had Labor at 52-48 on TPP.
On February 23, The West published a private poll of marginal seats funded by advocacy group, The Parenthood, again conducted by ReachTEL. The West noted a surge to Labor, with all six seats polled (Southern River, Perth, Mt Lawley, Wanneroo, Joondalup and Bicton) predicted to fall with an average TPP swing of 15%.
Fairfax commissioned a ReachTEL poll published on March 3, in which Labor had a 52-48 lead on the TPP vote. The swing of 9% suggests Labor could fall one seat short in its bid to gain government.
How important are One Nation Preferences?
From a purely pragmatic viewpoint, Barnett’s preference deal with One Nation is a legitimate gamble. His unpopular government is facing electoral defeat and with One Nation’s fortunes on the rise again in WA, shoring up the two party preferred vote is essential.
There are risks in the deal. The first question put to the premier by the panel at the leaders’ debate focused on how a man with integrity could engage in a “dirty preference deal”. While One Nation may have become more politically savvy, the party’s distasteful views remain and trying to suggest the party reflects mainstream opinion is disingenuous.
Barnett risks losing preferences from Nationals who are outraged at being placed behind One Nation in the Legislative Council, Greens who won’t direct their preferences on principle, and moderate Liberals protesting the deal.
The flow of preferences from One Nation supporters isn’t guaranteed either. Despite Pauline Hanson’s “it’s my party, I am the leader and I make the deals” position, a number of WA One Nation candidates are unhappy. Two were disendorsed — although it is unclear how large a role their position on the preference deal played.
A week out, the bookmakers have Labor at A$1.30 and the Coalition at A$3.40. The betting would suggest that WA is about to have a change of government.
Alert readers in the eastern states may have heard that their neglected cousins in the West are about to go to the polls. So what, I hear you say. It won’t make much difference at the national level, and the whole business is stupefyingly dull in any case.
You might have a point. But while the various campaigns have been a little underwhelming, and the candidates are somewhat lacking in charisma – a good quality in my view, by the way – the entire process has a wider significance, if only for students of comparative politics.
Disenchantment with democratic politics is a famously global phenomenon. It’s hard to think of a single country where the local political class is not regarded with scepticism or outright contempt. Politicians are routinely regarded as self-interested careerists with little time for, or understanding of, the needs of “ordinary” people.
According to a poll published in the Financial Review, Western Australians are no different. No less than 45% of the population described themselves as “fed up with both major parties”. It’s not hard to see why radicals, reactionaries and even racists might flourish in such an environment.
I have always thought that part of Australia’s problem is its antiquated federal system: there are simply too many politicians per person performing overlapping and/or duplicated roles – or doing nothing at all – at enormous and needless expense to the long-suffering taxpayer. And yet given the universal demise of democracy, there’s plainly more going on than just the mediocrity of our local representatives.
Nor is the idea that “they” don’t represent “us” entirely convincing. True, the major parties have to try to appeal to a wide spectrum of beliefs that they can’t hope to satisfactorily represent. But there’s no shortage of niche political products on offer that look to cater for every taste and interest.
The net result is that the traditional parties are losing members to special interests, while the anachronistic idiosyncrasies of our electoral system mean that formerly fringe players can now stop the big parties from actually doing anything.
When the balance of political power is tight – as it always seems to be these days – opportunists, defectors and egoists can add to the picture of dysfunction and incompetence.
WA is no exception to any of this. On the contrary, the political gene pool is a bit on the shallow side.
Whether WA politicians are really that much worse than their counterparts elsewhere is debatable, but what is self-evident is that the much-hyped resource boom has been squandered. WA is also a timely reminder that house prices can go down as well as up.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of this election actually flows from the mining bust. There is a noteworthy spilt within Coalition ranks over how to deal with the overwhelmingly foreign-owned multinationals that dominate the WA economy.
WA Nationals leader Brendon Grylls has bravely broken with his Liberal colleagues – and decades of bipartisan policy – in suggesting that the mining levy paid by Rio Tinto and BHP should be lifted from 25 cents per tonne to A$5.
The reaction of the big miners was entirely predictable: a lavishly funded campaign suggesting that such a tax is unsupportable and unaffordable. But they would say that, wouldn’t they? Such a campaign worked pretty effectively against Kevin Rudd, after all.
Interestingly, despite the miners throwing the political kitchen sink at Grylls, nearly 40% of Western Australians still think it’s a good idea.
Equally interesting has been the reaction of the other parties. The Liberals have criticised Grylls’ policy and even made a groundbreaking preference deal with One Nation ahead of the Nationals in the upper house. Even though the mining boom is over, it seems that Sandgropers are going to have to live with the politics of the “resource curse”.
Significantly, WA Labor’s “Plan for Jobs” makes hardly any mention of policy toward the resource industry, despite its dominant position in the state economy. Perhaps this reflects a recognition that the mining sector doesn’t actually employ that many people – especially now the investment phase of development is over. More likely it reflects an unwillingness to risk the same fate as Rudd.
Nobody seems to know who is going to win next week’s election – or whether the outcome will make the slightest difference to the state’s fate.
Mark McGowan looks to have a sporting chance of consigning Colin Barnett to the political scrapheap. He may be doing him a favour: Barnett increasingly comes across as testy and past his use-by date.
I’m a professor of political science and I don’t know if I can be bothered to go and vote. Not a good example to the students, I know. It’s not just the fact my vote won’t be decisive, but that I wouldn’t know who to give it to if I did.
Living in leafy Cottesloe with the premier as my member, I can’t vote for the Nationals even if I wanted to. Where’s the Socialist Workers’ Party when you need them?
The West Australian election will be held in eight days, on 11 March. A Fairfax ReachTEL poll, conducted Monday night from a sample of 1660, has Labor leading 52-48, a 2 point gain for Labor since a ReachTEL poll for The West Australian, two weeks ago.
ReachTEL asked a main voting intentions question with an undecided option, then further queried the 5.1% undecided as to which way they were leaning. Combining responses for these questions gives primary votes of Liberals 34.6% (down 0.8), Nationals 6.8% (down 1.6), Labor 35.2% (up 0.2), Greens 10.7% (up 4.7) and One Nation 8.5% (down 3.2).
The surge for the Greens is likely a correction from previous low Green votes in ReachTEL’s polls. At the 2016 Federal election, the Greens won 12.1% in WA, above their national vote share of 10.2%. In WA, the Greens tend to do relatively well and Labor relatively badly compared to the national vote at Federal elections.
The drop for One Nation may be due to discontent at One Nation doing a preference deal with one of the big parties that its voters despise. Research reported by Possum (Scott Steel) also indicates that many people voting for One Nation are doing so as a protest against the major parties, but they do not agree with One Nation’s policies, and dislike Donald Trump.
If this is the case, some people who currently say they will vote One Nation may desert as the election approaches and they become more aware of One Nation’s policies. This is also happening in the Netherlands; December polls had Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom easily winning more seats than any other party, but a dramatic slump in their support now has them second. The Dutch election will be held on 15 March.
At the 2013 WA election, the Liberals thrashed Labor 57.3-42.7 after preferences, and the Liberal/National alliance won 38 of 59 lower house seats, to 21 for Labor. Labor notionally lost a seat following a redistribution, so they need to gain 10 seats to win majority government.
On paper, Labor requires a uniform swing of 10.0 points to gain their 10th seat (Bicton). Labor would thus need 52.7% of the vote after preferences to win the election. However, marginal seat polling suggests that Labor is winning the required swing where it counts, though seat polls have not been accurate in the past.
Galaxy poll update Sunday morning: 54-46 to Labor
A Galaxy poll, conducted Wednesday to Friday from a sample of 1115, has Labor leading by 54-46, from primary votes of Labor 40%, Liberals 31%, Nationals 5%, One Nation 9% and Greens 8%.
A Newspoll in late January and this Galaxy poll have both bad Labor well ahead of the combined Liberal/National vote on primaries, while ReachTEL’s polling has been more favourable for the Liberals. It will be interesting to see which pollster is correct next Saturday.