The Australian Labor Party in Western Australia were roundly defeated at the state poll on Saturday. It would appear that the ALP have been reduced to just 19 seats in the 59 member lower house of the West Australian parliament. The WA Liberals could govern in their own right after Saturday’s election drubbing, but will not. Despite the huge win, Colin Barnett’s Liberal Party will again join with the WA Nationals to form a coalition government in the westernmost state. Together they won an estimated 40 seats.
It was not as big a win as the New South Wales Liberals experienced, nor the Queensland LNP, but it was a very significant victory for the Liberal team in Western Australia and an extra painful loss for the ALP in the state.
After such defeats – in fact, after almost all election losses, the usual questions are asked. What went wrong? Why did it go wrong? Was the campaign strong? Were there external factors which influenced the result?
It is abundantly clear that there were a number of factors which, when put together, led to the election result we saw at the weekend. The electoral age of the Barnett Government was a factor as was the campaigns run by both the major political parties. The result was also undoubtedly influenced by the state that the federal ALP finds itself in.
We can learn a number of lessons from the WA result.
The first is that most political parties will almost automatically spend more than one term in government. That happened here after four years of minority rule by Colin Barnett and his team of Liberals and Nationals. But what might have shocked was the extent of the voters’ desire to see the Barnett Liberals serve out another four years in government. And in truth, the kind of result we witnessed cannot be simply explained as the electorate giving the government another chance. Voters clearly wanted to deliver much more than just another four years.
Both the Liberal Party and the Australian Labor Party ran strong campaigns. And both were praised in the media for their strong campaigning efforts. But obviously the Liberal Party ran the stronger campaign. It is impossible to argue against that assumption given the result. And both campaigns were also very positive and based around further developing Western Australia.
Since the results came in late on Saturday night, thoughts turned to what this meant for the Labor Party locally and nationally. Discussion, as it does after a string of poor poll results, also turned to the question of leadership. Funnily enough, there was no questioning of the suitability of the ALP leadership team in WA. Instead, talk turned to what the result might herald for the Gillard Government and its figurehead, Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
There is no doubt that the Labor brand is toxic. We discovered that pretty quickly after seeing Labor Governments fall around the country, in two cases, into a deep electoral abyss. But it is not WA Labor that is on the nose in a particularly major way, it’s the ALP in the federal parliament which people are particularly weary of.
Because it is the Labor name that is toxic, it really does not matter much about who the federal Labor leader and Prime Minister is. Even though polls say Kevin Rudd would win an election if he were to become PM again, realistically, the electoral prospects for the party are still dire. So if the federal parliamentary Labor Party heeded the calls of former WA parliamentarian Alannah MacTiernan, apart from an initial bounce and a prolonged narrowing in the election-winning lead of the coalition – there would not be the required poll surge past the opposition.
Perhaps the strangest part of the election result was the unwillingness of commentators to give much credit to the Barnett Government. The people are not particularly stupid. If they thought he was doing a terrible job they would never have given him as Premier, and his government, as much as an endorsement as they did on Saturday at the ballot box.
Saturday too was just another message for Canberra about what is coming their way in September. It has an inevitability to it. The result will cause further leadership rumbles, but whether or not the federal ALP go into a panic is yet to be seen.
It is however, unlikely.