WESTERN AUSTRALIA: by News Weekly staff writersNews Weekly
Coalition fails to exploit Labor's vulnerabilities
, March 2, 2013
Western Australia’s Colin Barnett Liberal/National Coalition government has developed a strong lead over Labor in the final weeks’ campaigning ahead of the state’s March 9 election.
According to the latest Newspoll, published on February 9, the Coalition is leading the two-party preferred vote by 57 to 43 per cent — a swing towards the Coalition of 5.1 per cent since WA’s 2008 state election, which saw the defeat of the Alan Carpenter Labor government.
The anticipated overall result in WA’s lower house of parliament, the Legislative Assembly, seems a foregone conclusion. However, there is far less certainty about the results in some lower-house marginal seats, as well in some seats in the upper-house, the Legislative Council.
Liberals’ lifeline to the Greens
At the previous WA election, in 2008, Liberal Party preferences enabled the Greens to win two of their four Legislative Council seats — East Metropolitan and South Metropolitan.
During the lead-up to this year’s election, there was considerable support within the WA Liberal Party for emulating the successful Victorian Liberal strategy of preferencing the Greens last.
Instead, however, the Liberals have chosen to preference the Greens ahead of Labor in the upper-house seats that matter most to the Greens, those being the three metropolitan regions of East, North and South (in each of which the Greens currently hold one seat) and the South-West region.
The WA Liberals’ preferencing strategy is believed by a number of rank-and-file party members to be a result of a decision by the party to seek to benefit from the Greens’ offer to reverse their normal preference strategy.
Normally, the Greens preference independent candidates ahead of the major parties. However, in order to secure critical Liberal Party preferences, the Greens have offered to preference either the ALP or inconsequential candidates ahead of independents in lower-house contests, and thereby ensure the elimination of independent candidates early in the count.
With Newspoll showing that the Greens’ primary vote has declined from 12 to 8 per cent since the 2008 state election, the decision of the Liberal Party to preference the Greens ahead of Labor has effectively thrown the Greens a lifeline.
Labor’s Metronet initiative
To date, the election campaign has been dominated by Labor’s bold rail plan, called Metronet, which is designed to connect Perth’s suburbs by rail and ease the congestion on Perth’s roads.
WA’s population is the fastest-growing in Australia, and polling among the two-thirds of the state’s residents who live in Perth has shown that frustration with traffic congestion is their major concern.
The Barnett government’s economic management, normally a strong point for Coalition governments, has been under heavy attack by Labor opposition leader Mark McGowan during the campaign.
In 2008, when the Barnett government came to power, net state debt stood at $3.6 billion. It has since soared by more than 470 per cent to $17 billion, and is projected to reach $23 billion by 2014-15.
In December 2012, the ratings agency, Moody’s, revised WA’s outlook from stable to negative, and in February warned that the state’s triple-A credit-rating was at risk if the rate of growth in state debt continued unabated.
The Barnett government’s response, claiming that the debt was required for investment in important infrastructure to service WA’s growing population, is only partly true.
The financing of a number of non-essential projects, such as a new football stadium, a museum and the redevelopment of the Perth foreshore, has unnecessarily added to the state’s debt.
Same-sex marriage and euthanasia
On non-economic issues, Labor leader McGowan has indicated he supports the legalisation of both same-sex marriage and euthanasia.
He has stated he is “a supporter of same-sex marriage”, adding, “so if a bill was put up that was acceptable and legal, I’d probably vote for it.”
On the issue of euthanasia, McGowan has declared he would consider introducing a bill to legalise it if no other politician was prepared to do so.
Barnett and the Coalition parties have completely failed to exploit Labor’s vulnerabilities on such issues by running targeted micro-campaigns aimed at driving a wedge into Labor’s support-base, much of which remains socially conservative.
However, the Coalition parties are fortunate that, in the past 80 years, only twice has a first-term WA government failed to be returned to office.
So far, there is no evidence that the 2013 election will see the Barnett government turned out of office.