ANALYSIS: Covid-19 and the Future of Western Australian Politics

Analysis By: Political Expert Dr Ian Cook

Mark McGowan’s leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic may have reshaped Western Australian politics for decades to come.

Any leader is always one serious misstep away from electoral oblivion, but McGowan has put Labor in a position from which they can hold power for three more elections (the next 12 years).

Let’s be clear: The Western Australian Labor Party was always going to win the March 2021 election.

Labor’s 20 seat majority in 2017 meant they would win that election –even given Barry Urban and Labor’s subsequent loss of Darling Range. Very few leaders in Australian political history have squandered that sort of majority (search ‘Campbell Newman’).

Darling Range is important for another reason, though, as the Labor Party made the horrendous mistake of trying to distract voters from the Barry Urban debacle by presenting a ‘charismatic Mark McGowan.’

That was never going to work, because it doesn’t play to McGowan’s greatest strength: his ordinariness.

The Covid-19 pandemic has allowed McGowan to use that asset to its utmost.  After getting it slightly wrong with a seemingly unfeeling response to the plight of those on cruise-ships off WA’s coast, McGowan found the steady, concerned and seeking to act quickly but not panicked, tone that voters want.

Even the occasional moment of tension with the President of WA’s AMA, Andrew Miller, created the appearance that, while he was listening to advice, McGowan was making the decisions.

McGowan’s popularity has gone through the roof, with over 90 per cent of people saying he was handling the crisis well.

This means that the March 2021 is unlikely to result in the Liberals and Nationals winning back around half, for them hopefully more, of the seats they need to win to form government, with the goal of winning the rest in the 2025 election.

That’s the usual pattern of Australian politics. Few governments are voted out after one term. The crucial question concerns how many seats a government loses for their second term. A government might be around for three or even four terms if itholds onto enough seats for their second term.

So, the base pattern is of around two terms of government. It all depends on the win after The Big Win. 2017 was The Big Win – the landslide. 2021 was to be a lesser win for the Laborgovernment. 2025 was when the contest would become real and the moment for which the Liberals and Nationals had to be ready.

But McGowan’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic means that 2021 may see Labor holding onto most of the seats they won in 2017.

That will make it very hard for a Liberal-National coalition to win in 2025.

The only possible cloud on McGowan’s horizon is his retaining Ben Wyatt as Treasurer. This will be good in the short-term. But some of us recall another West Australian politician who was due to retire but came back in extraordinary circumstances… and who went on to be WA Premier for a decade (search ‘Colin Barnett’).


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