16/07/2020 - 14:00

Political timing test for Mark McGowan

16/07/2020 - 14:00


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The WA premier is benefitting from a well-received response to the pandemic but faces the real challenge at the state poll in March.

Political timing test for Mark McGowan
WA voters have liked Mark McGowan’s handling of the pandemic – his approval ratings have hit stratospheric levels. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

In politics, timing is everything. Just ask federal opposition leader Anthony Albanese and his state counterpart, Liza Harvey.

Labor’s Mr Albanese would have been mightily relieved his party retained the federal seat of Eden-Monaro in the recent by-election in an extremely tight contest.

Such ballots normally result in a swing against the government of the day. But these are not normal times.

And even though the Liberals increased their primary vote, the preference count favoured Labor. And in the end that was crucial.

Generally, however, Mr Albanese has been battling to lay a glove on Prime Minister Scott Morrison. In Western Australia, the boot is on the other foot.

It is the Liberals’ Ms Harvey who is having a similar problem with Labor Premier Mark McGowan.

Why? Because the COVID 19 issue – and how governments are responding to it – is dominating the news cycle.

So far both the prime minister and the premier, as well as most other premiers and chief ministers, are being seen to have handled the challenge well, although serious doubts have started to emerge about Victoria.

Mr Morrison was obviously determined to remain on top of the coronavirus issue after his summer stumble over his secret Hawaiian family holiday as the disastrous bushfires spread up and down the east coast.

He has succeeded, and his ability to communicate with voters via extended news conferences has helped. Sure, the Liberal Party failed to win Eden-Monaro from Labor, but the result could not have been much tighter.

And if the NSW National Party leader, John Barilaro, had been less duplicitous in his support for the coalition partner, the result might have been reversed.

In WA the Labor government, led by Mr McGowan, has been the beneficiary of the crisis.

The premier has been a cooperative member of the national cabinet, but has also acted decisively on issues such as intrastate lockdowns and closed borders with the rest of the country.

WA voters have liked it, with the premier’s approval rating not only hitting stratospheric levels, but staying there.

The prime minister’s case has been supported by the massive amounts of money the commonwealth is throwing at the problem to ease the pain for those whose businesses have been damaged or have lost their jobs.

The only criticism from federal Labor on that score would be for spending be increased or better targeted.

But there is concern in the financial world that commonwealth debt is ballooning and will remain a massive financial burden for years to come as it – plus interest charges – is paid off.

The challenge for all governments will soon be when to start pulling back on the financial assistance to businesses and individuals damaged by the tough early measures designed to combat the virus.

Mr McGowan will want his stimulatory measures designed to boost the building and road construction sectors to start bearing fruit by March 13 next year.

That’s his re-election date with voters – and the real test of his timing.

Ambassador Cormann?

Federal Finance Minister Mathias Cormann’s decision to quit politics at the end of the year is a blow for both the Morrison government and WA’s voice in the national capital.

It’s an inopportune time for the federal government to lose a key economic minister, let alone political operative.

Mapping a path out of the COVID-19 financial crisis will be hard enough let alone for his successor coming in cold.

Senator Cormann’s rise has been meteoric, considering he was a junior ministerial staffer in Richard Court’s coalition government in the 1990s.

But he has become a key minister in Canberra, and helped WA get a better GST deal.

He has also been a powerbroker in the WA Liberal Party. Many MPs owe their positions to his patronage.

What next for the German-speaking Senator Cormann? Doors in the business world would undoubtedly open, but there have been suggestions of a diplomatic appointment in Europe.

Such a move would inevitably attract cries of ‘jobs for the boys’ – the government rewarding its own.

But Mr Morrison would stress that former Labor resources and energy minister Gary Gray will become Australia’s Irish ambassador in August, and the best people are appointed, regardless of their politics.

Time will tell.


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