What does the WA election mean for the year ahead?
15 March 2021 at 6:39 pm
We can expect the federal government to pay a bit more attention to WA, but so too should social purpose organisations, writes Neil Pharaoh.
I admit I stayed up later than I would normally on Saturday night eager to see the state election results from WA. Elections come and go, and swings and roundabouts happen, but the WA election result is one of the most emphatic victories in Australian political history. By the time the counting stopped on Sunday, Labor had secured 88 per cent of the lower house seats, with the Liberal Party relegated to two or three seats (of 59) and the Nationals to three or four. The result means the National Party is the major opposition party in WA, a state where the Liberals and the Nationals do not form a formal coalition.
The next federal election must happen before May next year. Historically speaking, when you rule out the various periods typically not used for elections (grand final weekends, public holidays, festive season, school holidays, days likely to rain…) the election will probably be held either in October-ish this year, or March-ish next year. So, what does the WA election result mean?
For Labor, in my opinion, probably not very much federally – this election was more clearly than ever a state one. Mark McGowan (Labor premier of WA) went out of his way to ensure that when Anthony Albanese was in town they were not seen or photographed together. With McGowan having meteoric personal approval, versus Albanese’s lackluster ratings, you can understand why keeping their distance was important for WA Labor.
With that said, there is some upside for Labor. There are 16 federal seats in WA, and 11 are held by the Liberal/National Party. There is currently a hotly contested federal redistribution happening and the state is set to lose one seat, reducing its number to 15 at the next federal election. This will inevitably mean a number of current members will need to contest seats with new or changed boundaries, and one unlucky MP will lose their existing seat and probably attempt to contest another.
Likewise, the Liberal Party at state level will likely not have the infrastructure and manpower to fight a campaign as well as if they had a dozen or two seats in the WA Parliament. At the current rate, even the gerrymandered upper house in WA may fall to Labor, which hopefully will mean once in a lifetime reforms to remove the last remaining gerrymander in Australia. (For those not familiar, the WA Upper house gives more seats to regional and rural areas than the city, meaning votes are worth more outside Perth, where the Nationals and Liberals typically do better, than the city itself).
WA though has a history of voting very differently at state and federal level, and it seems Australians on the whole are getting more comfortable with the idea that they can vote differently at state and federal level. WA also has some quirks – its reliance on mining is well known, it doesn’t have poker machines outside the casino, and LottoWest, which operates the scratchie market in WA and other gambling, is in effect a big philanthropic organisation which donates profits back to community projects – something I am sure the rest of Australia’s social sector would envy.
We can expect the federal government to pay a bit more attention to WA – perhaps we will see some additional half price flights announced soon – but so too should social purpose organisations who have invested time and energy meeting their Liberal Party state candidates and members. The opportunity now should be to use this time wisely and build on connections already made, possibly by meeting the large number of federal Liberal MP’s who still represent WA.
My parting words, remember that those Liberal nobodies today will be government MPs and ministers in the future, and that Labor stars will be feather dusters tomorrow – and vice versa. Invest in the relationships now, even though the next WA election is a good few years away, as politicians will remember you for making a connection at a time when they had nothing to give you.
About the author: Neil Pharaoh has spent most of his voluntary and professional life in and around social purpose organisations, government, public policy and advocacy. Neil has been behind many leading social policy and advocacy campaigns on gender rights, equality, medical research and education, and ran for Parliament in Victoria in 2014 and 2018. Neil is co-founder and director of Tanck, which focuses on better engagement with government, and regularly runs workshops and advocacy sessions and advises leading social purpose organisations on their government engagement strategy and systems.
Happenings on the hill is a fortnightly column focusing on all things politics, policy, campaigns and advocacy. Stay tuned for updates around political trends and elections, lobbying and advocacy news, and hints, tips and ideas on government engagement that are specifically written for the social purpose/for purpose sector.
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