WA election minus 11 days

With less than two weeks to go until the WA state election, Labor’s heroic effort to seize the campaign initiative doesn’t seem to be changing voters’ inclination to return the Barnett government.

Here’s my review of the situation from yesterday’s Crikey:

A familiar part of the ritual of modern state elections is the morning-after debate over what it all means for the federal government. According to circumstance, federal leaders will claim the result to have been “overwhelmingly something decided on state issues” (copyright John Howard from the morning after Labor came to power in WA at the 2001 election), or a “referendum” on the federal government (Tony Abbott, passim).

To at least some extent, state elections cannot fail to be influenced by federal factors. Modern federal-state relations being as they are, accurately assigning responsibility for outcomes is hard enough work even for the few who are aware how policy responsibilities are allocated in the constitution. For the rest, there is a natural inclination to fall back on affective responses to party labels which are heavily influenced by perceptions of the federal sphere.

However, it’s equally clear that federal factors loom a lot larger at some state elections than others. Whereas Neville Wran was famously able to lead Labor to power in New South Wales at federal Labor’s low ebb of 1976, Wayne Goss could credibly complain that voters had been waiting “on their verandahs with baseball bats” for the Keating government after he copped an unexpected whack at the Queensland election of 1995.

Two weeks out the March 9 Western Australian election, Labor leader Mark McGowan would have a good idea of how Goss was feeling.

Despite some missteps, such as last week’s muddled half-promise to rearrange the government’s Swan River foreshore development, McGowan has overseen a campaign whose basic strategy offers a model to beleaguered oppositions seeking to take up the challenge to ascendant governments.

In proposing a $3.8 billion expansion of Perth’s rail network, Labor smartly tied Liberal weaknesses (traffic congestion, a broken rail line promise from the last election, and a sense of the Premier being detached from everyday concerns) and Labor strengths (its delivery of successful major rail projects when previously in office) into a single message that it forcefully communicated through well-crafted television spots. The Labor campaign has also done as well as could be hoped in building McGowan’s undercooked public profile, helped in some degree by his clear win in last week’s leaders debate.

A measure of the campaign’s accomplishment was provided by a Galaxy poll in yesterday’s Sunday Times which had McGowan trailing Colin Barnett by just 6% as preferred premier, essentially confirming the recent Newspoll result which had it at 4%. These are strong numbers for an opposition leader in any circumstance, and substantially better than Barnett was doing against Alan Carpenter before he won the 2008 election.

However, this cheering result for Labor was marred by the small matter of voting intention, on which the poll had the Liberal and National parties on 50% of the primary vote for a resounding two-party preferred lead of 56-44. This points to a swing against Labor of 4%, which sits well with the fierce ground campaign observable in seats with Labor margins of up to 7%.

Neither side is in any doubt as to the main source of lead in Labor’s saddlebags. As Labor advertising explicitly implores voters to stay focused on state issues, not just the Prime Minister but the entire cabinet has been told to keep its distance during the campaign. Party sources quoted in The Sunday Times congratulated Stephen Smith for his “fantastic” work in enforcing a ban on ministerial visits, with the few that couldn’t be avoided (by Bill Shorten, Penny Wong and Anthony Albanese) kept purposefully short and low-profile.

Sadly for Labor, that didn’t stop the recent series of damaging headlines for the Gillard government intruding at exactly the time the state campaign had counted on getting its message across.

Most worrying of all for Labor is the likelihood that its campaign fortunes have already peaked. The strategy of going early with advertising and major policy announcements may have allowed Labor to seize the initiative, but it has left it without the means to match a looming blitz by a Liberal Party that has largely kept its powder dry.

The West Australian today reports the combined ad spend by Labor and the unions has so far come in at over $1 million (albeit that not all union advertising has been expressly election-related), compared with just $115,000 for the Liberal Party.

With donations to Labor having run at less than half those of the Liberal Party in the previous financial year, it is clear Labor will face a stiff challenge getting heard over airwaves awash with Liberal advertising in the crucial period between now and polling day.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

27 comments on “WA election minus 11 days”

  1. Eric Ripper – mate, it wasn’t you – the ALP are just on the nose. The ALP are going to be further from Government than they were under you after this election.

    Not that that’s much consolation.

  2. Re Federal Saddlebags- I think you’re spot on William. My contacts aren’t reporting any good news from camp labor. McGowan will have to call on the punters to give Col a scare in the last week- safe in the belief that the Libs can’t lose. Still a favourable leadership rating with two weeks to go can rescue the train-wreck scenario. A lot hanging on the treasury costings of Metronet.

  3. I refused to believe it was as bad as the bookmakers were making out, but having spoken to some contacts on both sides, its Looking like a train wreck for Labor with a week and a half to go. Winning back Fremantle and perhaps Morley will be the only positives for Labor, with Balcatta, West Swan and perhaps even Belmont in real doubt. Turns out the bookies were correct, as always.

    CC, do you think Kucera is any chance?

  4. I think Kucera has a good chance in Mt Lawley. He has good profile and plenty of support from his previous stint. Sutherland only just snuck in last time. Plenty of Doctors wives who won’t like James Price Point and no risk of a protest vote leading to a change of Government. Sutherland – have you ever met the guy in person? I’m a Liberal Party Member and . . . I’ll leave it there.

    Anyway – it’s about the best roughy in the pack.

    Bob’s back!

  5. The results are just not positive at all for state and federal Labor 🙁

    Public transportation is such a big issue for most people in WA. People who regularly catch the bus/train often complain about lack of parking/lack of railcars/overcrowding/irregular services (especially at night). But even for people who don’t use public transportation often will realise how busy it is just by driving past the station! Which makes me wonder why people aren’t responding better to Metronet.

    Last time I checked, out of about 100 railcars ordered in the last few years, only 10 of them were by the Libs.

  6. Bit moreof a Barney (excuse the pun) today over transport and roads. McGowan has challenged the libs to deny that their plan for the airport rail link is contingent on federal funding likewise the plan for a new highway out of Perth that bypasses the swan valley. It probably is a bit cute to be promising an 800 million dollar road when youwill be only paying 25per cent of the cost. Needless to say that denial was not forthcoming. I suspect that public transport is still going to a be a big issue in Perth in 2017.

  7. Yes, you are right and on top of that, Perth will continue to grow.. But I do think that Metronet will help reduce some of the problems with public transportation.

  8. Blossom

    If the libs win and it is just about a given I suspect Barnett will follow the agenda he has this term is basically do nothing for two an a bit years and then start moving on projects closer to the next election. That means they will stall on the tram line,the airport rail link will disappear without trace and the only spending for public transport will be some extra rail cars which may it may not have been ordered. Metronet was ambitious and was an attempt to chnage the situation where all rail lines lead to the city by building a loop around the suburbs. Sadly I doubt it will ever happen.

  9. The twin elections might force me to cull my Facebook list (which I’ve never done before in six years of being on the thing), due to excessive political stupidity. Somebody just updated their status with a joke about red hair starting like so:

    [“When Julia gets booted from office next weekend…”]

    Yeah, these people exist. They’re the ones with Wayne Goss’ baseball bats, I suppose.

    (I don’t choose my friends by political leanings alone, so it’s inevitable I have several dozen FB friends who will vote Liberal later this year, even if the friends-of-Bird group does skew to the left. Some of them may get noisy about that fact.)

  10. 12 – WeWantPaul

    A bit of the good hyperbowl there – “nearly five years”

    Given it is a 3 to 4 year lead time and they have only been in government since middle of 2008 – even if they made the decision on day 1 they wouldn’t have most of the trains here yet.

    I believe they have about 40 on order.

    Of course then there is the issue of staffing – how much over staffing would be acceptable while waiting? Wouldn’t the ALP have a field day exposing that rort – incompetent administration of railway staffing levels . .

  11. Apple Blossom

    Since we do not have any rail car for the Metronet and the lead time is about 4 years. So the Metronet’s earliest day of operation is around 2020?

  12. Does someone have the actual lead time – I mean the actual minimum timeframe from firm order to delivery.

    The Goverment has consistently failed to predict passengers correctly and deliberately underinvested it isn’t an accident. It is effectively an incompetent steward of the rail network as passengers can and do see on a daily basis.

  13. Both West Swan and Morley are second round battles for the failed team carpenter candidates. If either or both of them lose battles that should be easily won I hope someone actually considers applying the lessons learned from the last election in the next election.

    In West Swan in particular it will be interesting to see if Rita can get the sophomore surge a good hard working member should get. It should be particularly strong given the terrible way the Libs have screwed over the Eastern Corridor.

  14. [Apple – what’s the lead time on buying rail cars? They’re not off the shelf items.

    How many do they have on order?]

    I figured. I was told about the orders on the rail cars by Liberal and Labor by Labor candidate from my area. I would have to ask her again when these rail cars were initially ordered

    [Apple Blossom

    Since we do not have any rail car for the Metronet and the lead time is about 4 years. So the Metronet’s earliest day of operation is around 2020?]

    I’ve been told it’s earlier than 2020, they want to start building ASAP if elected. Once again, that is what I have been told by candidates.

  15. Just to add, I suspect those orders would have dated back to when the Mandurah Line was built. I think most of the recent rail car orders ordered by Labor were done during construction.

    I am not sure how long the lead time is exactly.

  16. [In West Swan in particular it will be interesting to see if Rita can get the sophomore surge a good hard working member should get. It should be particularly strong given the terrible way the Libs have screwed over the Eastern Corridor.]

    Who do you think will win in West Swan? I’ve heard mixed reviews.

  17. Barnett has apparently again today ducked questions about whether the liberal plan for an airport rail link is dependent on federal funding, just as he did yesterday with the Swan valley bypass. The get out clause for all these projects not being delivered is already in place. Sure metro net is ambitious and funding for it will be an issue but when will politicians realise that you have to start somewhere on things like public transport? I wonder how long it will be after the election that buswell announces that his light rail plan is on hold till, say 2016, by which time he hopes to be premier and a start might be made in time for the 2017 election. Knowing the cheek of the man he will probably blame Eric ripper for mismanaging government finances and forcing him to delay the project.

  18. [In West Swan in particular it will be interesting to see if Rita can get the sophomore surge a good hard working member should get. It should be particularly strong given the terrible way the Libs have screwed over the Eastern Corridor.

    Who do you think will win in West Swan? I’ve heard mixed reviews.]

    Rita should win easily – but if I only had $100 and had to put it on one if them my head would say to put the money on Natasha.

    If Labor can return to Metronet and get some traction next week (show up at the trains stations and bus stations and hand out tshirts and stickers – carry bags – we all wear / use / carry them) it should get Rita over the line.

    I like that the campaign left metronet and covered a broad range of issues but it needs to refocus on doing it.

  19. Barnett and hockey (and their successors) will be blaming Gillard and swan for decades to come. Barnett has actually been stymied a bit in blaming ripper because the state finances were in pretty good shape when he came in Debt I think was abt 3 billion but is heading for 20 billion and the under-treasurer has expressed some concern. when you have been in office for 4 and a half years that is all your own work.

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