I got heavily involved in our State election in WA after seeing from the relative distance of Singapore the crushing victory of the Federal Liberal government. My opportunity arose unexpectedly – a controversial Labor politician, John Quigley, former lawyer to the Police Union, lost his seat in a boundary redraw and had to contest a northern metropolitan seat.
For those outside Australia, Australia, like many Western democracies, is a two-party state with the centrist liberal-ish Labor Party (ALP) and centre-right conservative Liberal/National coalition (National is the rural party) vying for geographic seats roughly evenly distributed by population. In general, the Liberals have spent more years in power than the Labor party, although the latter has been elected for significant terms in the past. In the Upper House, which is elected on a proportional basis of 12 senators per state and 2 per territory, minor parties such as the Greens and Democrats can win seats. Any legislation needs to pass both houses to become law. The State systems are a smaller version of the national system. There are many variances, exceptions and technicalities but the above generally holds as an explanation 🙂
At present, the Liberals have just won their fourth term in office under Prime Minister John Howard, who’s been in for 9 years. Meanwhile, all of the states and territories now have Labor state governments (longest serving since 1994, most recent since 2002), often with considerable majorities. There was some concern that WA was going to become the first state the Coalition won back.
The WA election campaign
To cut a long story short, the Coalition were in front in WA at the start of the 5-week campaign, but made some horrendous mistakes of judgement during the campaign that rendered them a ridiculous choice for government. Their campaign was “Decisions not delays”, and seemed to consist primarily of tough on crime, more hospital beds, and a 3,700km long canal from the north of the State to Perth to supply Perth’s water needs. Most of this stuff was uncosted and untested, but Barnett, the Liberal leader, said that he preferred making decisions to having feasability studies. I wrote this elsewhere:
“This is one of the few times that the Liberals can only blame themselves. Usually the incumbent government delivers a weak performance, has questions surrounding it, and survives basically because the voters are sheep, or because of unpredictable factors. This time, however, I’m going to concur with Noel Crichton-Browne (one of the few times you’ll ever see me do so) and agree that for the Liberals, this was probably the single worst campaign of the last 30 years. Almost from the word go, they were trying to grab the far-right wing vote – obviously not a big one, given the paltry (compared to Eastern states) showing for CDP, CEC and Family First – and trying to “inspire” the public with populist pipe dreams. Barnett did a major blow to his own credibility waiting until 2 days before to deliver his costings. The Labor party wiped the floor with them, putting out a figure of $10 million which, rightly or wrongly, the public heard many times before the “official” costing. The official costing left out the canal, which certainly many people I worked with noticed.”
As a result, Labor’s primary vote rose to its highest level (42%) since 1989, the Coalition’s stayed at record low levels, while they watched the traditionally conservative One Nation vote turn into primary votes for Labor and, to a lesser extent, the Christian parties.