As the Liberal Party WA warns voters against giving Labor total control, Business News analyses how the election is likely to affect the balance of power in the Legislative Council.
THE Liberal Party WA has switched to a defensive posture as the state’s election campaign nears its end, working to shore-up the seats it holds and warning voters against giving Labor control of both houses of parliament.
Liberal concerns of an election wipeout larger than that of 2017 have prompted the move, which in most years would be an unthinkable outcome given the weighting of rural votes for the Legislative Council.
Premier Mark McGowan has garnered record-high approval ratings for guiding Western Australia through the COVID-19 pandemic, with the latest polling showing the government leading the Liberals 68-32 per cent on a two-party preferred basis.
But opposition leader Zak Kirkup has warned that a Laborheavy parliament could have serious implications for the balance of power, particularly in the upper house.
The Liberals’ latest advertising campaign has even gone as far as to use Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to restrict Australia’s access to news on the platform to demonstrate what Mr McGowan may be capable of if Labor was to secure the majority.
“Do the people of WA want to see total control of the Legislative Council, total control of the parliament of WA?” Mr Kirkup said.
“Or do they want to make sure that WA Labor is held to account right the way through the election?
“That’s dangerous for the future of our state … it is a threat to our democracy.”
Mr McGowan has responded by casting doubt over the reliability of polling predictions and calling on the public to support the current government.
“We don’t take anything for granted,” Mr McGowan said. “I would say that if you want a stable government, support this government.
“Support the government that has kept the state safe and strong throughout the pandemic.”
This year, a record 325 candidates from 18 political parties are vying for one of the 36 seats up for grabs in the Legislative Council.
One Nation holds two seats. The remaining three seats are held by Liberal Democrats, the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, and the Western Australia Party.
Sources close to both Labor and the Greens told Business News the parties had their sights fixed on the South Metropolitan and North Metropolitan regions, but made it clear that Labor winning seats at the expense of the Greens was unlikely to help the government take the majority.
Despite Mr Kirkup’s pleas to voters, a senior Liberal strategist remains confident the party will retain its six seats across the three metropolitan regions.
The simple majority in the upper house is 18, but with the governing party expected to supply the chamber’s president, who doesn’t usually vote on matters before the house, the party would need 19 seats to take control.
Labor would need to retain the 14 seats it currently holds and secure five more to do that.
Polling shows a potential 17 percentage point increase in Labor’s primary vote, putting five seats in reach.
The Legislative Council also retains a significant malapportionment, with the votes of electors in the Agricultural Region and the Mining and Pastoral Region carrying four to six times the weight of those in the metropolitan regions.
A minister told Business News that while the government’s alliance with the Greens may help Labor pass legislation through the upper house more easily, the two parties had a number of significant policy differences.
The minister also pointed out that, historically, the Liberal-National coalition had maintained the balance of power in the upper house.
There have been a significant number of amendments to bills in the upper house during the McGowan government, which the Liberals claim highlights the importance of scrutiny by the opposition.
The opposition has used its numbers in the upper house to stop a series of new taxes proposed by the government, including a gold tax.
The Nationals have also raised concerns about what could happen to the electoral regions if Labor was to hold the majority, launching an advertising campaign against the party’s One Vote, One Value policy being introduced in the upper house.
Nationals leader Mia Davies has argued that the policy, which is already enforced in the lower house, would effectively silence regional communities, and could lead to the scrapping of the Royalties for Regions program.
She warned that there was a real chance that Labor would control both houses of parliament this election, and asked voters to consider what may happen if the Nationals could no longer protect Community Resource Centres, Moora Residential College, and the School of the Air, as they had since 2017.