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Western Australian election preview

By Graham Young - posted Friday, 10 March 2017

The WA election is between a government that is tired and an opposition that is not exactly fresh.

Election issues boil down to the Liberal Party appearing to lack ideas, or to be arrogant and disinterested in the public, and the ALP representing change. While most of those concerned about financial stability appear to be going for the Liberal Party, there is also significant disquiet that after a mining boom the finances of the state are not in better order, which is driving some of Labor’s vote.

Colin Barnett is seen as too interested in building monuments to himself, like The Stadium and Elizabeth Quay, or building roads, like ROE 8 which are believed not to be needed, and not building things that were promised like a rail network. At the same time there is also a strong level of support for the ROE 8 road project amongst Liberal voters, so this particular project probably has no net electoral advantage for either side.


There is also a concern that there is no viable succession on the Liberal side.

While privatisation has been touted as a reason for people voting Labor it was not frequently raised as an election issue, and when it was, only by those who voted Labor last election. That confirms our polling in Queensland and New South Wales that privatisation is not a swing issue – it is an issue primarily for the rusted-on Labor voter.

One Nation’s appeal is mostly disconnected from state issues, with One Nation voters frequently concerned about Islamic immigration, gay marriage and other issues to do with social coherence and values.

By contrast to Barnett, McGowan appears to have a problem with sincerity and passion. While he is better liked than Barnett, people are generally lukewarm about him, and cynical about whether he really will deliver. Like most opposition leaders he is seen as being negative, and many of the Liberal and Liberal-leaning voters see him as anti-development and pandering to Greens voters, particularly with his MetroNet proposal and opposition to ROE 8. There is also serious concern about his ability to manage the state finances.

Maybe the position of electors on Pauline Hanson’s One Nation has changed during the campaign, but approval or disapproval of the Liberals’ deal with them in the Legislative Council seems to mostly hinge on who you are supporting. If you are a Liberal supporter, then you think that it is either smart politics, or in some cases, helps to give them some conservative cred. Liberal voters also compare it favourably to Labor preferencing the Greens, who they see as being the mirror image of Hanson.

If you are Labor or Greens you tend to think the Hanson deal is morally bankrupt.


So pragmatics rules most of those in favour, and principle those against.

Summing-up the combination of the quants and the qual, Colin Barnett appears to be heading for defeat, which might have been worse if he had not done a deal with One Nation. It is not that there is much enthusiasm for Mark McGowan, but that Barnett’s government is seen as tired, his team in need of rejuvenation, he squandered the fruits of the mining boom and is remote from the people. McGowan is slightly tarnished by having been part of the Carpenter government, is suspect on economic management and his attitude to industrial and mining development, but essentially, it’s time for a change (although no one uses those exact words).

One Nation should do well, mostly because they are not either of the other two parties, and as a protest on cultural issues a state government can do little about, such as Islamic immigration, political correctness and gay marriage. This may be modified by Pauline Hanson’s last week of campaigning, but probably not, as no one is voting for her to be the government. They want her to be a counterweight to whichever of the two major parties forms government.

The bookies have it as a comfortable win for McGowan and Labor, and this time I think they are right.

And just in case you think I’m making it all up, here are some comments from some of our repondents.


The Liberals have stuffed up the economy with their inability to foresee the downfall of the mining boom and plan for the aftermath. All the money that was earned during the boom has been spent and we are in the biggest state debt ever. How is this even possible???? It's amazing that this government wasn't able to capitalise at all on a once in a lifetime opportunity. This government has to go! ALP, Female, 45-54

I don't trust labour on moral issues any more, their acquiescence to follow homosexual marriage and this dreadful safe schools business is enough to make me think they are controlled by a vocal minority which are self serving and can be quite nasty in their tactics.   These issues will a larger longer lasting social impact (negative in my view) than any unions versus business or socialism verses free enterprise etc. NP, Male

McGowan has been quite weak in opposition in my opinion.   He has offered no real alternative and the stuff he is promising now, we all know he will never deliver on, because the state is broke.   Why the hell is he lying now.   Let's put aside the fact he is a labor man for a moment. If he actually stood up now promising responsible fiscal policies, telling the WA public that he won't be building anymore monuments or rail projects in his first term, but to concentrate on getting the budget back under control and a lot of the debt paid off, I think he might actually get a lot of people deserting their other parties and swinging toward labor. Because right now, there is a lot of nervousness out there about how much in trouble we are financially due to Barnett's out of control spending.   Unfortunately, McGowan has chosen to promise billion dollar spending on public works (monuments) which will only send us further down the dunny! LP, Male, 55-64

Toxic debates and lies about renewable energy, mismanagement of large infrastructure projects, spiralling State debt. ridiculous infrastructure projects such as the Stadium, Elizabeth Quay, the environment minister approving for uranium mines against the EPA recommendations, funding exploration for non-conventional gas, and Roe 8 reflect how far we're heading in the wrong direction GP, Male, 55-64

Public transport and privatisation of electricity and unwelcome Islamic migrants and the over representation of Islamic clients in centerlink and medical infrastructure as well as frenzied Mosque construction. PHON

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About the Author

Graham Young is chief editor and the publisher of On Line Opinion. He is executive director of the Australian Institute for Progress, an Australian think tank based in Brisbane, and the publisher of On Line Opinion.

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