28/01/2003 - 21:00

State Scene - The leadership issue

28/01/2003 - 21:00


Save articles for future reference.

AS January 2003 recedes we approach the Gallop Government’s half-way mark.

AS January 2003 recedes we approach the Gallop Government’s half-way mark.

By way of background it’s worth recalling that Premier Geoff Gallop led Labor into power on February 10 2001 with just 37.2 per cent voter support, 2.8 per cent more than the Liberal-National Coalition and 6 per cent above the Liberals.

At the last election, therefore, the major parties attracted historically low voter backing.

One Nation’s 9.6 per cent and the Greens 7.3 per cent meant they together won eight Upper House seats.

The well-regarded Newspoll shows that, within six months of election day, support for the Coalition stood at 42 per cent while Labor had slipped to 35 per cent, which is precisely where both were in that poll’s most recent assessment quarter – October/December 2002.

Since mid-2001 the Coalition has hovered in the 40-44 per cent range while Labor was in the 35-39 per cent band.

One Nation’s support has dramatically slumped, to just 1 per cent, with the Coalition probably gaining most of their lost 8.6 per cent.

The Democrats now only attract 2 per cent.

However, the Greens have boosted their support to the 10 per cent level.

Another notable development is what’s called “others” – meaning primarily Christian Democrats and independents (Phillip Pendal, Liz Constable, Janet Woollard and Larry Graham) – who now consistently attract 10 per cent or more compared with half that in February 2001.

If this 2001/02 voter pattern holds, Labor can expect to enter the February 2005 campaign with 35-39 per cent, roughly what it scored in February 2001, with the Coalition going in with a respectable 40-44 per cent, more than 10pc above its backing at that time.

The Greens should attract around 10 per cent, well above their 2001 performance, while One Nation and the Democrats will record 2 per cent or less, with the so-called “others” together recording 10 per cent.

Crucial for Labor and the Coalition, therefore, will be the flow of Green and “others” preferences.

would be belatedly revamped, with eight rural seats reallocated to the metropolitan area, something that would significantly boost Labor’s re-election prospects.

Another complication is the crucial Gallop-Barnett popularity stakes.

Over and above Labor’s consistently dismal 35-39 per cent backing and the Coalition’s respectable 40-44 per cent is the question of how voters see each leader as premier.

After two years this is Labor’s only good news and consequently depressing news for the Liberals, and thus the Coalition.

Dr Gallop remains well regarded by voters, whereas Mr Barnett’s performance is simply abysmal.

Gallop voter satisfaction since mid-2001 has consistently been 50 per cent or higher whereas Mr Barnett’s as Opposition leader – not as potential premier – fell from 35-38 per cent during the July 2001/March 2002 period to just 29 per cent in Newspoll’s latest assessment quarter.

But the outcome is far worse for Mr Barnett when he’s compared with Dr Gallop on who voters gauge the better premier.

The latest assessment quarter showed Dr Gallop scoring 56 per cent, with Mr Barnett at just 12 per cent.

That abysmal figure came after five assessment quarters during which Mr Barnett’s average never exceeded 18 per cent.

If this persists during 2003/04, voters – especially swinging ones – will be opting for Gallop-led Labor in droves despite preferring a non-Labor government.

Only a major scandal or a colossal legislative bungle – both possibilities, though unlikely following Labor’s torrid WA Inc ordeals – would upset these leadership popularity outcomes.

The WA Liberals are thus in the unfortunate position of having no-one to replace a leader persistently showing low voter appeal.

And this seems set to become the crucial factor that will result in another Gallop-led government, until February 2009.

Interestingly, when Labor lost the December 1996 election, Dr Gallop, then a new leader trailing Liberal Premier Richard Court, within a few months exceeded 30 per cent and remained there until he won in February 2001.

By comparison Mr Barnett’s approval hasn’t topped 18 per cent, which explains the occasional rumors of leadership challenges.

The fact that Victorian Labor dumped John Brumby when his rating was 18 per cent and Victoria’s Liberals removed Denis Napthine when he sank to 14 per cent suggests WA’s Liberals simply have no-one to put in Mr Barnett’s place, even though his popularity has nose dived.

And this despite Mr Barnett having had eight years as a senior minister – Energy and Education – being deputy Liberal leader and two years as Opposition leader, meaning his popularity slides the higher his profile goes.

If Labor doesn’t get the McGinty-style redistribution it so desperately desires its MPs will cross their collective fingers and hope like hell they go into the 2005 campaign with Mr Barnett leading the Liberals.

Most of One Nation’s 1 per cent seems Coalition-bound while the Democrats’ 2 per cent will probably split evenly. Most Green voters will preference to Labor.

On these aggregates all the pointers are for a close February 2005 election.

But two other factors markedly complicate matters.

Firstly, a redistribution using the Court Government’s rural-weighting arrangements is now under way and its outcome is unknown.

But the Greens are under mounting pressure to belatedly change their stand to back Labor’s presently stymied one-vote-one-value electoral legislation.

If that happens the redistribution now under way


Subscription Options