After a weekend of convulsions among what remains of the parliamentary ranks of the Liberals and Nationals in Western Australia, both parties settled on new leaders yesterday, with Moore MP Shane Love taking the mantle of Opposition Leader as head of the Nationals, who have four seats in the lower house, and Vasse MP Libby Mettam emerging leader of the Liberals, who have two. To deal with the developments in turn:
• The ball began to roll when Mia Davies, who has led the Nationals and hence the opposition since the 2021 election, unexpectedly announced her resignation on Friday, though she will serve out her term as member for Central Wheatbelt. With North West Central MP only having served in parliament since a by-election in September, this left the the party’s other two lower house members, Moore MP Shane Love and Roe MP Peter Rundle, as the only plausible successors (the party has a further three seats in the Legislative Council). Rundle declared himself a “potential contender” on Sunday, but in the event Love was chosen unopposed, with Rundle replacing him as deputy.
• Hours after Mia Davies’ announcement on Friday, Vasse MP Libby Mettam launched her long-anticipated challenge against her only Liberal lower house colleague, Cottesloe MP David Honey. This left the matter effectively to be determined by the party’s seven Legislative Council members, with weekend reports suggesting five were lining up behind Mettam (Tjorn Sibma from North Metropolitan region, who uniquely went on the record, together with Peter Collier from North Metropolitan, Steve Thomas from South West, Steve Martin from Agricultural and Donna Faragher from East Metropolitan), with Honey claiming the support only of Nick Goiran from South Metropolitan and Neil Thomson from Mining and Pastoral. Honey duly conceded defeat and left Mettam to take the position unopposed. Steve Thomas was also elected unopposed to succeed Mettam as deputy.
Liberal internal affairs have been dominated over the past 18 months by controversy over the machinations of “the Clan”, a loose factional grouping including Nick Goiran and Peter Collier, together with Mathias Cormann before he quit federal politics in October 2020. Mettam sought to seize the initiative yesterday by announcing that Goiran, a religious conservative with an extensive network of support in the party’s southern Perth branches, would be excluded from the shadow ministry, which since the 2021 election has found places for all Liberal and Nationals members.
On the other side of the aisle, Labor is negotiating a less consequential but electorally noteworthy difficulty arising from the retirement of high-profile former minister Alannah MacTiernan and the resulting vacancy for her South West region upper house seat. Such vacancies are filled through a countback of ballot papers from the previous election and not with the favoured nominee of the party, as in the Senate. The top three of Labor’s six candidates on the South West ticket were elected in 2021, and in the normal course of events the countback would elect the next candidate along. However, The West Australian reports the candidate in question, John Mondy, is “understood to be reluctant” to tear himself away from a successful Bunbury signwriting business to spend two years as a parliamentarian.
That puts the focus on the fifth candidate, Narrogin lawyer Ben Dawkins, who faces dozens of charges of breaching a family violence restraining order, which he says relates solely to “emotive” language in emails he sent to his estranged wife. Dawkins is said to be interested in taking up the vacancy, but would do so as an independent given his legal troubles have caused him to be suspended from the ALP. The situation does not threaten Labor’s upper house majority, which inclusive of MacTiernan consisted of 22 seats in a chamber of 36.