9 April 2017
Probably few people outside Western Australia would’ve heard of Mark McGowan until last month. Although now State Premier, he was State Opposition Leader for a number of years, and questions had loomed over whether he was up to the job of governing the state – let alone whether people knew who he was. But at a general election last month, WA voters were so fed up with the Barnett Liberal Government that they put aside any doubts about the Labor Party, led by McGowan, and turned to Labor in a big way.
After more than eight years in office, the Liberal Party suffered a massive election defeat, winning only thirteen seats out of fifty-nine in the Lower House. The previous election, in 2013, had seen the Liberals emerge with more than thirty seats – the tally last month was halved from what it’d been before. Meanwhile, Labor went from twenty-one seats in 2013 to forty-one last month, meaning that it’d almost doubled its 2013 tally.
The Liberals had taken office in 2008 with the help of an alliance with the Nationals, and in 2013 they won enough seats to govern alone, but they maintained the alliance. As for the Nationals, they fell from seven seats in 2013 to five seats last month. And one of the casualties of the election was Brendan Grylls, the leader of the Nationals, who lost his seat of Pilbara to Labor.
The result was always tipped to see a big swing against the Liberals, in part to reverse a big swing to the Liberals in 2013, when Labor was really unpopular in the state. Indeed McGowan himself was Labor leader at the time. But over time this unpopularity for Labor reversed, especially as the WA economy hit bad times with the end of a big mining boom, after which big budget deficits and high unemployment resulted. As for Premier Colin Barnett, who’d led the Liberals to victory in 2008, albeit after reversing plans to retire from politics back then, he went from being immensely popular to the opposite, and by last month, voters were angry and almost desperate to see the back of him.
These sentiments saw Labor and McGowan emerge victorious, as predicted in opinion polls. By election day, there were predictions of a swing of around 10-11 per cent against the Liberals, and indeed they suffered a big swing. Labor won by a bigger margin than expected as voters massively turned against the Liberals. I’d argue that the election saw the Liberals go west – if you’ll pardon the pun.
Before the election, I’d tipped Labor to win thirteen seats from the Liberals, two of which actually had Labor members but were notionally in Liberals hands after an electoral redistribution, which saw seat boundaries change to reflect population change between elections. My tips had been for Balcatta, Belmont, Collie-Preston, Forrestfield, Joondalup, Kalamunda, Morley, Mount Lawley, Perth, Southern River, Swan Hills, Wanneroo, and West Swan to go from the Liberals to Labor. In the meantime, I’d also tipped the Liberals to regain Hillarys from an Independent who’d quit the Liberals last year. These tips all came to pass.
The redistribution also created a new seat called Baldivis, which was notionally in Labor hands before the election. There was no reason to doubt that Labor would hold this new seat, and it did so.
However, as usual, there were results that I didn’t tip. Labor also won Bunbury, Darling Range, Jandakot, Kingsley, and Murray-Wellington from the Liberals. Two new seats notionally in Liberal hands following the redistribution, Bicton and Burns Beach, were also Labor gains. The gaining of Pilbara by Labor from the Nationals was another result that I didn’t tip. And apart from Pilbara, the Nationals also lost Kalgoorlie, which went to the Liberals.
As for the Upper House, the results there could’ve gone in any direction. The Liberals had won seventeen seats out of thirty-six in 2013, but last month they won nine. Labor went from eleven seats in 2013 to fourteen last month, but it fell well short of a majority, meaning that it needs crossbench support to pass legislation. The Nationals fell from five seats to four, and the Greens also finished with four after losing one of two existing seats but gaining three seats in other areas, while the remaining seats went to other minor players. I’d tipped one seat to go to the party of the controversial Pauline Hanson – her party ended up with three seats, one of them in Perth and the other two outside Perth.
The result in WA came about because of voter dissatisfaction with the Liberals and with Barnett, but they probably had doubts about Labor beforehand. Labor has quite a job ahead in convincing voters that it can govern after much doubt had loomed for so long.