Labor wins big in Western Australia polls

Victory over ruling Liberal-National alliance set to place pressure on PM Turnbull

The Labor party won a landslide victory in a state election in Western Australia yesterday in a crushing defeat of the ruling conservative Liberal-National alliance that will place pressure on the nation's Prime Minister, Mr Malcolm Turnbull.

With 58 per cent of the vote counted last night, Labor was expected to win 40 Lower House seats and the Liberal-National alliance was due to win 19. The result marked a heavy swing against the Liberal party of about 16 per cent.

The election also dealt a heavy blow to the right-wing anti-migrant firebrand, Ms Pauline Hanson, whose One Nation party fared poorly. The party was set to receive just 5 per cent of the vote despite expectations that it could achieve as much as 15 per cent.

The Liberal leader, Mr Colin Barnett, 66, has been state Premier since 2008 and his loss yesterday was widely expected.

His standing has suffered as the state's economy has declined following the end of a China-fuelled mining boom. Western Australia, a resource-rich state, was the hardest-hit region when the boom began to end four years ago.

THE TIME FACTOR

To me, the overwhelming factor was time... It is a phenomenon, particularly in Australian politics, that the electorate, the voters, only give a government, a people, a certain amount of time.

LIBERAL LEADER COLIN BARNETT, on the result.

Conceding defeat last night, Mr Barnett - the country's longest- serving leader - blamed the result on his relatively long "time" in office. "To me, the overwhelming factor was time," he said. "It is a phenomenon, particularly in Australian politics, that the electorate, the voters, only give a government, a people, a certain amount of time."

The Premier-elect, Labor leader Mark McGowan, a 49-year-old father of three and former navy lieutenant, ran a safe campaign and presented himself as a fresh and uncontroversial alternative.

He strongly opposed a plan by Mr Barnett to partly privatise the state-owned electricity distribution network, Western Power.

Labor's stunning election victory is set to worry the federal Liberal-National Coalition and place serious political pressure on its leader, Mr Turnbull.

The Prime Minister is struggling in opinion surveys and his Liberal party room is likely to grow nervous about the party's heavy losses in a state that traditionally supports conservatives.

But the other big loser in the state election was Ms Hanson.

She had predicted that One Nation would win five seats - two in the Lower House and three in the Upper House - but it was on track last night to win just one.

Commentators said One Nation suffered badly from a series of gaffes during the election campaign by Ms Hanson, a federal MP. She was criticised for voicing support for Russian President Vladimir Putin as a role model for Australian leaders. She also said parents should have babies "tested" before having vaccinations - a claim that she later recanted.

One Nation also appeared to suffer from its vote-swapping deal with the Liberal party. The deal undermined the populist party's ability to present itself as an anti-establishment movement in the mould of those which led to the recent victory of United States President Donald Trump and Britain's decision to leave the European Union.

Ms Hanson admitted last night that One Nation would have to carefully assess its decision to further cooperate with a major party.

"Doing the deal with Liberals has done damage to us," she told Channel Seven last night.

But Mr Barnett also suffered from the One Nation deal. The Liberal party has long shunned One Nation because of its extreme views and the backroom political deal appeared to alienate voters. Federal Liberal MPs last night insisted that the heavy loss in the west did not reflect on its nationwide standing or on the performance of Mr Turnbull.

But Labor was quick to seize on the result as a sign of discontent with the federal government.

"Tonight, Mr Turnbull will be watching the results come in from Western Australia with a very nervous eye," said federal Labor leader Bill Shorten.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 12, 2017, with the headline 'Labor wins big in Western Australia polls'. Print Edition | Subscribe