The results of the West Australian state election last night are certainly quite dramatic with the incoming Labor government gaining over 10% of the vote in a two-party preferred basis and on-track to increase their parliamentary representation from 21 to 40 or more. As impressive as the change might be, it certainly was also predicted and various opinion pollsters can be quite pleased with their results with Newspoll, ReachTel, and Galaxy all suggesting a 54-46 TPP result.
Commentators, especially from the conservative camp, have been very quick to try to explain what went wrong. The outgoing Premier, Colin Barnett, expressed what is a favourite talking point:"time was probably against us", and there is a bit of truth in the statement. Except for the most incompetent, a government typically will receive an improvement in their second term, and experience a modest swing against them in their third term. But surely any conservative who is honest with themselves, would know that this would account only for a few percent. The sheer size of the swing does not constitute a lackadaisical "let's let the other side have a go".
Others will hone in on election campaign itself, and certainly this has a more significant influence. Running a campaign can be a tricky business with the potential for conflict between the leader's office, the party office, MPs going off script, and having to keep party members and volunteers enthusiastic and supportive. From all accounts, the campaign run by Mark McGowan and Labor was far superior to that of the Liberals, many of whom are busy writing checklists of what went wrong. Doubtless those lists will include the much maligned preference deal with the extreme right One Nation Party. A month ago, it was considered a masterstroke that would lead to the Barnett government winning a third term as ON was polling at 13% (they received around 4.5%). But tainted with ON's odorous extremism, and with massive infighting within that party, it turned out to be an enormous liability; lie with dogs and you'll get fleas. In addition, relations between the Liberals and their supposed partners the Nationals, were extremely fractious. For their part the Nationals who proposed large increases in resource taxes, did not lose votes. Combine these effects, and tick off another few percent.
At this point most commentators are apparently flummoxed, confused to work out where another several percentage points of swing came from. Of course these are well-paid members of the chattering class, comfortable in their position in the new economy. They never have experienced, or in a very few cases have forgotten, the dire and grinding insecurity that comes with poverty in Western Australia. One commentator, Natalie Mast, (and she erred on One Nation) picked up the role of economic matters; high levels of unemployment, low economic growth, large mortgages, and massive government debt. Having failed to deliver twenty years of high growth, and failed to reduce levels of debt (already high four years ago), the government's plans to privitise the the state electricity utility was not well received.
Ultimately, the most important issue in the election was economic security, and that's what the results show. The Barnett government did not spend wisely in the last term, and was arguably downright profligate. Investment in infrastructure can be very useful, but only when it's needed. Expensive projects releasing land in the inner city is fine and probably has long-term benefits, but not when there's already a 30% vacancy in office and retail space. Expansions to road projects are sometimes welcome but certainly not through environmentally sensitive areas and certainly not with questionable contracts (notably the WA Greens also had a stable result). High unemployment, expensive mortgages, and government debt; for poorer West Australians they would have known all too well that it would only be a matter of time before public services were cut. The situation of course was not helped by the Federal LNP supporting a recent decision to cut penalty rates. The Federal justice minister Michael Keenan has claimed "Penalty rates and federal issues have been no issue in this campaign". Keep telling yourself that Michael; the people of WA know differently.
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