Labor’s thumping win in Western Australia carries risks for both sides



AAP/Richard Wainwright

Martin Drum, University of Notre Dame Australia

Liberal fears of a wipeout in the Western Australia state election have been realised, with the Labor party winning about 52 seats in the 59-member Legislative Assembly.

This represents the biggest electoral win in any Australian jurisdiction since the stabilisation of the two-party system over 70 years ago. There is no doubt that the immense popularity of Labor Premier Mark McGowan was a decisive factor in the result. McGowan enjoys rock-star-like status in the state, and this was noted by his political opponents during the count.

For the Liberals it has been a devastating loss: not only have they almost been obliterated from the parliament, but their leader has gone and they are no longer the official opposition – that now goes to the National Party.

One of the earliest seats to call was the seat of Dawesville, held by 34 year old Liberal leader Zak Kirkup. He had already conceded that he could not win the election before a vote had been cast, and his subsequent focus had been on retaining as many Liberal seats as possible.

Another high profile casualty was former Liberal leader Liza Harvey, who lost her seat of Scarborough. Harvey was blamed by some in Liberal circles for the defeat. As opposition leader in 2020 she had called for WA’s hard border to come down, which was followed immediately by the COVID-19 outbreak in Victoria.

At this stage, it looks like the extraordinary support for Labor will translate into an upper house majority for the first time for Labor. It is worth noting that Liberal-National governments in WA have regularly controlled both houses of parliament while in government. While the Nationals occasionally voted differently from the Liberals, being in cabinet meant this was a rarity. Control of both houses should mean government bills will pass into law with little resistance.




Read more:
Labor obliterates Liberals in historic WA election; will win control of upper house for first time


Is WA a one-party state?

While there will be at least six Liberal or National MPs in the 59 seat lower house, and a much higher number of non-government MPs in the upper house, there is no doubt the McGowan government will dominate proceedings in parliament.

Such is the imbalance, though, that it raises questions of accountability. Parliament is the principal body of accountability for governments in our democratic system, and it is critical parliamentary processes that typically hold government to account are maintained. Opposition parties need resources to research contentious issues, investigate complaints, and develop alternative policies.

It is critical oppositions are able to ask questions without notice in question time, put detailed questions on notice to the government in the Legislative Council, and have a presence on parliamentary committees that investigate issues arising in government and in the broader community. Most importantly, they need the resources to scrutinise bills which are introduced into either house.




Read more:
Meet Mark McGowan: the WA leader with a staggering 88% personal approval rating


There are dangers for the government itself in having a large majority. Some Labor members may struggle to have their voices heard in such a large party room. There will be increased competition for all manner of roles in government, starting with positions in the new Labor ministry, and disappointment may lead to discontent and in-fighting within the partyroom.

Governments that control both houses run the risk of passing poorly-structured legislation. Parliamentary scrutiny leads to better governance, a factor that in the long run helps governments as much as oppositions. One factor in the demise of the long-running Howard government was the passage of its “workchoices” legislation, achieved during a rare incidence of government controlling both houses of the federal parliament.

WA Liberals have been all but obliterated in the state election, with leader Zak Kirkup among those who lost their seats.
AAP/Richard Wainwright

Federal implications

There will no doubt be some pundits who draw federal implications from Labor’s stunning victory, but it is worth remembering that neither Scott Morrison nor Anthony Albanese featured in the campaigns of either party. Albanese did visit WA during the campaign period, but did not join McGowan on the campaign trail.

Western Australia has long been a traditional heartland for the federal Liberals, and they currently hold 11 of the 16 seats here. Federal Liberals from WA have been punching well above their weight in the federal government. But Morrison has not visited Western Australia since October 2019, and two of his senior ministers from WA are both on leave with their futures under a cloud.

Any suggestion of trying to overlay these results onto federal seats is a fraught exercise. But there is one thing we know for sure: there will be a lot fewer people in WA working for the Liberal party in paid positions than there were before the election. This will affect the ability of Liberals to strategise, and organise on the ground.

The organisational structure of the party has come under scrutiny in recent times, amid fears that the WA branch is dominated by a small group of powerbrokers. Maintaining robust structures for campaigning will be crucial with a federal election due within the next year.

But there are a few positives that the federal government may take out of the campaign. First, WA voters have consistently voted differently at state and federal level. And Morrison, while not enjoying the popularity of McGowan, is more popular than his opponent. The WA election also marks the fourth straight state or territory election during COVID-19 where the incumbent government has been returned. It is clear incumbency and competent management are distinct advantages during a pandemic.The Conversation

Martin Drum, Lecturer Politics and International Relations, University of Notre Dame Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Labor obliterates Liberals in historic WA election; will win control of upper house for first time



AAP/Richard Wainwright

Adrian Beaumont, The University of Melbourne

With 43% of enrolled voters counted in yesterday’s Western Australian election, the ABC was calling Labor wins in 49 of the 59 lower house seats, to just two for the Liberals and three for the Nationals. Five seats remained in doubt.

The current final outcome prediction is 52 Labor, three Liberals and four Nationals. Since the 2017 election, this would be an 11-seat gain for Labor and a 10-seat loss for the Liberals. Liberal casualties included current leader Zak Kirkup’s seat of Dawesville, and former leader Liza Harvey’s Scarborough.

Statewide primary vote shares were a massive 59.1% for Labor (up 16.9% since 2017), 21.3% Liberals (down 9.9%), 4.5% National (down 0.9%), 7.1% Greens (down 1.8%) and just 1.3% for One Nation (down 3.7%). The Poll Bludger’s statewide two party projection is 69.2-30.8 to Labor, a 13.7% swing to Labor.

With 30.8% of the upper house vote counted, the ABC’s group ticket voting calculators are giving Labor 22 of the 36 seats (up eight), the Liberals six (down three), the Nationals four (steady), Legalise Cannabis two (up two), the Shooters and Fishers one (steady) and the Greens one (down three).

Current results show Labor winning 20 of its 22 seats on raw quotas without requiring preferences. They need a small amount of preferences to win three seats in Agricultural region and four in North Metropolitan. Labor is set to win the heavily malapportioned upper house for the first time in its history.




Read more:
Whopping lead for Labor ahead of WA election, but federal Newspoll deadlocked at 50-50


Why this result occurred

As I wrote recently, the current 69-31 two party result is probably the most lopsided ever in Australian electoral history for any state or federally. Labor’s primary vote may drop back as more votes are counted, but will be at least roughly level with the combined National and Liberal vote at the Queensland 1974 election.

With the opposite party in power federally, and campaigning for its second term, Labor was likely to win unless they had major stuff-ups. But Premier Mark McGowan’s handling of COVID created this record landslide.

Imposing hard borders to stop the spread was very popular, and with relatively few cases in WA, life remained relatively normal with the exception of a five-day lockdown in early February. In the final pre-election Newspoll, McGowan’s ratings were 88% satisfied and just 10% dissatisfied.

I do not think there are federal implications from this massive Labor victory at the state level. While not at McGowan’s levels, Scott Morrison was still very popular by historical standards at 64% satisfied, 32% dissatisfied in the last federal Newspoll.

If being perceived as dealing well with COVID is a criterion for a successful re-election, the federal Coalition would be likely to win now.

In February 2001, Peter Beattie led Queensland Labor to 66 of the 89 lower house seats, to just 15 for the Coalition parties. But in November 2001, the federal Coalition under John Howard was re-elected, with the Coalition winning 19 of the 27 federal Queeensland seats.

Many people did not believe the 68-32 Newspoll three weeks ago, and the final pre-election Newspoll (66-34) was also hard to believe. But Labor has exceeded both these Newspolls. A YouGov poll of Dawesville had Labor winning by 60-40; it’s currently 64.5-35.5. Expecting outcomes to be narrower than polls indicate can be a big mistake.

Biden’s $US 1.9 trillion stimulus becomes law

To revive the US economy from its COVID-induced recession, President Joe Biden proposed a $US 1.9 trillion stimulus. On March 6, this stimulus passed the US Senate on a 50-49 vote, with all 50 Democrats in support and all Republicans opposed; one Republican missed the vote.

Had the vote been tied at 50-50, Vice President Kamala Harris would have broken the tie. This stimulus vote shows how important the two narrow Democratic wins in the January 5 Georgia Senate runoffs were.

Without those victories, there is no possibility this stimulus would have become law, and Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell would still control the Senate’s agenda, enabling him to deny votes on items he disliked.

On Wednesday the House of Representatives, which had earlier passed its own version of the stimulus, agreed to the Senate’s amendments by a 220-211 margin. Biden signed the stimulus into law on Thursday. All Republicans who voted in either chamber of Congress opposed the stimulus.The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, The University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Meet Mark McGowan: the WA leader with a staggering 88% personal approval rating



Richard Wainwright/ AAP

John Phillimore, Curtin University

Last March, Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan donned an AC/DC t-shirt to pay tribute to Bon Scott, the late lead singer of the legendary band.

He joined some 150,000 fans who gathered along Perth’s Canning Highway to hear bands covering “Highway to Hell” and other AC/DC classics.

In the 12 months since, the world has certainly been to hell and back. Politically, however, for McGowan the year may feel more like a stairway to heaven. With the state election due on March 13, polls suggest he will win easily, and even increase Labor’s already record majority. His personal approval rating sits at a staggering 88%.




Read more:
Whopping lead for Labor ahead of WA election, but federal Newspoll deadlocked at 50-50


But polling is one thing, celebrity status is another. And McGowan’s popularity is bordering on rock star status in some quarters.

In recent weeks, a voter has willingly tattooed a likeness of McGowan’s face on their body, a local comedian has written a song of devotion to him, a wedding party hauled him on stage to speak to 300 cheering guests, and a video of the Premier’s dance moves at the Perth Fringe has gone viral on TikTok.

Who is McGowan, and why is the 53-year-old enjoying such a huge poll lead? And what lies in store on the other side of the election?

From the navy to state politics

Originally from regional New South Wales, McGowan joined the navy as a lawyer. In 1991 he was posted to HMAS Stirling near Rockingham, 50 kilometres south of Perth. In 1995, he won a bravery commendation for rescuing a man from a burning car.

WA Premier Mark McGowan and his wife Sarah casting their votes at a pre-polling booth.
WA Premier Mark McGowan and his wife Sarah cast their votes last week at a pre-polling booth.
Richard Wainwright/ AAP

He has been Rockingham’s local MP since 1996 — the second longest-serving MP in state parliament. He entered Geoff Gallop’s cabinet in 2005 and is seen to have chalked up solid achievements in environment, education and perhaps most notably in loosening regulations to encourage small bars.

With Labor in opposition, he took over as leader in 2012, only to see his party go backwards at the 2013 election. He then resisted a far-fetched leadership challenge from former federal minister Stephen Smith before finally winning a record victory in 2017 against Colin Barnett and the Liberal Party.

The WA factor

Most Australian political leaders saw their popularity grow during COVID-19, with trust in governments rising as Australia performed well, minimising health and economic impacts.

But WA provides particularly fertile ground for a leader. The state has always had a strongly independent streak, distant from “the eastern states”. It also firmly believes its mining and gas resources are the basis for Australia’s economic prosperity and that the proceeds have not — until a recent GST deal — flowed back to the state.

McGowan played this situation adroitly, declaring in early April 2020 that WA would become an “island within an island” by closing its borders. He took a firm line on international cruise ships. His public image was ubiquitous with daily media briefings, and softened by his spontaneous response to a media query about buying a kebab, of all things, which also went viral.

He successfully fended off a High Court challenge to WA’s hard border from businessman Clive Palmer as well as the mining magnate’s claim the state owes him A$30 billion.




Read more:
Clive Palmer just lost his WA border challenge — but the legality of state closures is still uncertain


Meanwhile, McGowan worked with the mining industry to keep production going by transferring interstate fly-in fly-out workers to WA. He was rewarded as iron ore prices skyrocketed and the state’s finances grew. Regional tourism has revived and the state’s economy recovered more quickly than interstate counterparts.

Since mid-2020 daily life in WA has been largely normal again, despite a blip in January when a short lockdown was imposed, due to a hotel quarantine breach.

Of course, it’s not all bouquets. The Western Australian Council of Social Service has called on the McGowan government to do more to address child poverty, improve housing affordability and reduce the over-representation of Aboriginal young people in out-of-home care and juvenile justice. Critics have described his government’s efforts to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for its greenhouse gas emissions as “limp”. Plenty outside the state have condemned some of the WA government’s snap decisions on COVID border closures.

Despite all that, McGowan’s government remains enormously popular where it counts: among WA voters.

What’s next?

Assuming he wins — and wins big — on 13 March, what are the challenges and opportunities facing McGowan and his government?

Economically, WA appears in a strong position, and Labor’s election campaign has focused on more job creation. But the state is always subject to international commodity cycles, while tensions in Australia’s relationship with China — the main customer of WA iron ore — add a new element of risk.

Portraits of Zak Kirkup and Mark McGowan.
Liberal leader Zak Kirkup has already conceded he cannot win the election.
Richard Wainwright/ AAP

Socially, dealing with homelessness and rising house prices and rents will be on the agenda, after several years of relative stagnation in the property market.

Politically, despite Liberal warnings of Labor gaining “total control” of parliament, it is highly unlikely McGowan can secure an outright majority in the upper house, given the high levels of rural malapportionment. But there is a chance that Labor and the Greens combined could win an upper house majority for the first time.

This could put pressure around issues such as carbon emission reductions, where WA Labor has generally been happy to let Canberra take the lead. More prosaically, the prospect of a big win means McGowan will have to find ways of managing a large backbench that will inevitably include restive MPs with thwarted cabinet ambitions.




Read more:
The Liberals face electoral wipeout in WA, but have 3 good reasons to keep campaigning


However, the prime concern will be to avoid complacency and overreach, especially if the opposition is weak. WA governments tend to win two terms. A big win for McGowan may make a third term seem inevitable, but upsets like the Liberal National Party’s 2015 loss in Queensland show elections can’t be taken for granted.

But for now, the WA Liberals, under leader Zak Kirkup, appear to be on a road to nowhere. For Mark McGowan, it’s been a long way to the top. He is in no hurry to come down.The Conversation

John Phillimore, Executive Director, John Curtin Institute of Public Policy, Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

WA election could be historical Labor landslide, but party with less than 1% vote may win upper house seat



AAP/Richard Wainwright

Adrian Beaumont, The University of Melbourne

The Western Australian election will be held on Saturday, March 13. Polls close at 9pm AEDT. I am not aware of any WA polling conducted since the blowout 68-32 lead for Labor in a Newspoll that I covered two weeks ago.




Read more:
Whopping lead for Labor ahead of WA election, but federal Newspoll deadlocked at 50-50


If replicated at the election, a 68-32 two party result would be over ten points better for Labor than at the November 2018 Victorian election, which was regarded as a Labor landslide.

In recent Australian electoral history, Labor was crushed at the March 2011 NSW election, and at the March 2012 Queensland election. In NSW 2011, the Coalition under Barry O’Farrell won the two party vote by 64.2-35.8, and Labor won just 20 of the 93 lower house seats.

A more extreme seat wipeout occurred in Queensland 2012, despite a slightly narrower two party margin. Labor was reduced to just seven of the 89 seats on a two party result of 62.8-37.2 to the LNP under Campbell Newman.

The fortunes of Queensland and NSW Labor have diverged since these elections. Queensland Labor won the 2015 election, and has held office since with wins in 2017 and 2020. In NSW, the Coalition decisively won both the 2015 and 2019 elections.

In February 2001, Queensland Labor under Peter Beattie reduced the Coalition parties to 15 of the 89 seats on primary votes of 48.9% Labor to 28.5% for the Coalition. At the December 1974 Queensland election, Labor won just 11 of the 82 seats; that election was in the Joh Bjelke-Petersen era.

The most recent Newspoll gave WA Labor a primary vote of 59%. Once the two major parties would win over 90% of the primary vote between them, but the rise of the Greens, One Nation and other small parties has seen the major party share decline.

It appears the last time a party came close to 59% of the primary vote was at the 1978 NSW election, when Neville Wran led Labor to 57.8%. At the 1974 Queensland election, the combined vote for the Nationals and Liberals was 59.0%.

A 68-32 two party result with a Labor primary vote of 59% would be a historical result in Australia.

Group voting tickets could see micro-party elected to upper house

Analyst Kevin Bonham has conducted simulations using the ABC’s upper house group voting ticket calculators. He says the biggest danger of a micro-party winning is in the conservative Agricultural region, which spans four lower house electorates – Central Wheatbelt, Geraldton, Moore and Roe.

As I covered previously, the WA upper house has six regions that each return six members. Three of those regions are in Perth, so that Perth has just half the upper house seats on almost 80% of the state’s population. The Agricultural region only has 6% of enrolled voters, but will elect one-sixth of the upper house.

In Bonham’s scenario, Bass Tadros, the lead candidate of Health Australia Party in Agricultural region who has put forward debunked theories about a linke between 5G and vaccines, could win through a preference snowball on as little as 0.2% of the vote. Tadros Greens’ preferences are going to Tadros ahead of Labor in that region, so they will be partly responsible if he wins and costs Labor a seat.

This is a very conservative region, and the Greens have no chance of winning a seat themselves. It would be better for Greens voters in that region to vote Labor than risk electing Tadros and costing the left a seat that could see Labor and the Greens fail to win an upper house majority.

SA poll: 51-49 to Liberals

About a year before the next South Australian election, a YouGov poll has given the Liberals a 51-49 lead, a two-point gain for Labor since September. Primary votes were 43% Liberals (down three), 36% Labor (up one), 10% Greens (steady) and 6% SA Best (up one).

Incumbent premier Steven Marshall led Labor’s Peter Malinauskas by 50-30 as better premier (54-26 in September). This poll was conducted February 24 to March 1 from a sample of 843. Figures from The Poll Bludger.

Tasmanian poll: Liberals over 50%

A Tasmanian EMRS poll, conducted February 15-23 from a sample of 1,000, gave the Liberals 52% (steady since November), Labor 27% (up two) and the Greens 14% (up one). Incumbent Peter Gutwein led Labor’s Rebecca White as preferred premier by 61-26, unchanged since November.

The next Tasmanian election is likely to be held in early 2022. Tasmania uses a proportional system with five electorates each returning five members that are elected using the Hare-Clark method. With a majority of the vote, the Liberals would easily win a majority of seats.

The EMRS polling suggests a big COVID boost for the Liberals, from 43% in March 2020 to a peak of 54% in August.The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, The University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Liberals face electoral wipeout in WA, but have 3 good reasons to keep campaigning



Richard Wainwright/AAP

Martin Drum, University of Notre Dame Australia

Time is running out for the Western Australian Liberal Party. Polling points to a massive Labor landslide at the upcoming state election on March 13.

Following last month’s Newspoll, which put Labor in front by 68-32, two-party-preferred, Liberal opposition leader Zak Kirkup abandoned any public pretence he might actually win the election.

“I accept it’s not my time,” he told The West Australian newspaper last week.

Not following the election script

While not entirely unprecedented (then Labor leader Geoff Gallop said the Court government would be “returned comfortably” three days before the 1996 WA election), it is nonetheless an extraordinary admission from Kirkup. It departs from established practice where political leaders try to preserve hope amongst their faithful, even in the face of extreme adversity.

Some voters may applaud Kirkup — who only took up the Liberal leadership last November — for his honesty. This was certainly the editorial view of The West Australian. It is also a definitive way of capturing the “underdog” status going into election day and emphasising the importance of checks and balances in our political system, while highlighting the importance of the upper house race as well.

Liberal leader Zak Kirkup
Zak Kirkup was elected WA’s Liberal leader in November 2020.
Richard Wainwright/AAP

But there are significant risks to this approach. One is that voters may feel its disrespectful to the vast majority of people who are yet to vote. Another is, why would voters take any notice of Liberal party policy announcements, if they won’t be in government to deliver on any of them?

Under the circumstances, the Liberal Party could be forgiven for pitching their policy settings firmly towards their own base. Curiously, their one signature policy involves shutting WA’s coal-fired power plants by 2025, backing in renewable energy generation, and achieving net zero carbon emissions in the state electricity system by 2030.

It has certainly attracted the ire of federal colleagues, with Liberal MP Andrew Hastie describing it as a “lemon”. For their part, the McGowan government has borrowed lines from the federal Coalition’s playbook, arguing the policy would see,

many, many billions of extra debt, a huge increase in family power bills, rolling blackouts across the state and huge job losses.

More at stake than forming government

While the headline result of the election looks like a foregone conclusion, there are plenty of reasons for the Liberals to continue to fight hard for every vote.

The first is to try to stop Labor from winning control of the Legislative Council (upper house). While the Coalition almost always win control of the upper house when in government in WA, this is extremely rare for Labor.

A Labor majority (or a Labor-Greens majority) could pave the way for electoral reform to remove undemocratic malapportionment in WA. In the upper house, one regional six-member electorate has fewer than 70,000 voters, while three six-member metropolitan ones have more than 400,000 each.




Read more:
Whopping lead for Labor ahead of WA election, but federal Newspoll deadlocked at 50-50


However, this malapportionment is so extreme, it means even a Labor landslide doesn’t guarantee an upper house majority in its own right. The Labor party currently has just 14 seats in the 36 seat chamber, despite winning 41 of the 59 seats in the lower house in 2017.

To win 19 seats they need to pick up additional seats in five of the six upper house regions. They already hold three seats in both the east metropolitan and south metropolitan regions and the quota for four is a whopping 57.14% of the primary vote. This provides us with some sense of magnitude of the victory required to achieve a basic majority.

Being able to be an effective opposition

A second critical reason for the Liberal party to chase every vote is to avoid a wipe out that is so bad it makes them ineffective as an opposition.

The Liberal Party currently has just 13 seats in the 59 seat Legislative Assembly, which is the legacy of a very poor performance at the last election. While they look very likely to sink further, they would be desperate to avoid the most catastrophic outcome — a return of fewer seats in the lower house than the Nationals and the loss of official opposition status.

Labor Premier Mark McGowan
Labor Premier Mark McGowan has a a commanding lead in the polls.
Richard Wainwright/AAP

There is also the possibility their numbers could be so low as to deny them the resources normally allotted to parliamentary leaders and whips as set out by the Salaries and Allowances Act.

This means they would have very few staff and minimal funds to hold the government to account. It also means their capacity to probe during question time and ask useful Questions on Notice would be limited. They would also have a very thin presence on parliamentary committees.

Thinking ahead to 2025

There is also a third, compelling reason for Kirkup and the Liberals to avoid electoral oblivion.

While the modern electorate is a volatile one, if they win just a handful of seats in 2021, the task of winning in 2025 would also become much more difficult — the Liberals may face at least three terms in opposition.




Read more:
Labor wins WA in a landslide as One Nation fails to land a blow


An electoral wipe-out could ruin the careers of future leadership aspirants and ensure that the next Liberal premier is yet to enter parliament.The Conversation

Martin Drum, Lecturer Politics and International Relations, University of Notre Dame Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.