Newspoll Lead In WA Presents A Quandary For Labor

A NEWSPOLL LEAD for the ALP in WA for the first time in almost seven years will be hailed by long-suffering Labor types, but poses a problem for their federal party; with its leadership stocks nationally vapid at most and its arguably best prospect stuck in a small state — with no obvious federal seat to draft him to — Labor must weigh whether storming a small conservative citadel is more important than its welfare on a larger stage.

Labor has scored a win this morning which, whilst Pyrrhic, is bigger than it seems; the Newspoll of state voting intention for Western Australia published in The Australian today finds the ALP ahead of the Coalition after preferences, 52-48, for the first time since the Gallop/Carpenter government was robbed of its majority and forced from office at the election there back in August 2008.

Readers can access the Newspoll tables here.

It’s a quick post from me this morning; back to reality after Easter (which I trust everyone enjoyed) and back to normal, I am pressed for time: but the name of the ALP’s state leader in WA, Mark McGowan, is one I think those of us in the eastern states are set to hear more often in the months ahead.

Someone had to take the fall: it’s about the unkindest thing I can find to say of McGowan, who — despite the fact I disagree with his politics — was the sacrificial lamb offered up at the state election in the West two years ago in the face of certain slaughter by the rampaging Liberal government of Colin Barnett and carrying the crushing weight of the unpopularity of the Gillard government; that election, which saw the Liberals win outright despite remaining in Coalition with the National Party, was one of the conservatives’ strongest victories in WA in decades, and in ordinary circumstances should have been enough to consign the ALP to at least another decade in the wilderness.

But “circumstances” are not ordinary, and since then we’ve seen the government of the ageing Barnett (who will be nearly 70 when the next election is due in 2017) lose its way; the bottom fall out of commodity prices, choking this bastion of the mining industry of revenue; and another federal government — this time a Liberal one — weigh Barnett down with record unpopularity that all of its state divisions have struggled to overcome, the big win in NSW last month notwithstanding.

Ever since McGowan oversaw the belting Labor copped in WA in early 2013 I have thought he represented the one bright spot on the ALP’s otherwise bleak outlook where its stocks of leadership are concerned; the most recent article in which we talked about this appeared on this site just before the last federal election, and whilst McGowan clearly has something to offer his party, I just wonder whether it would be doing itself a disservice to allow him to stay where he is and attempt to become Premier of WA.

Let’s face it: no objective assessment can find a genuine leadership prospect in the federal ALP caucus.

Current “leader” Bill Shorten has shown himself to be an irresponsible economic vandal, whose only known policies would trash the economy and smash the public healthcare system; his deputy, Tanya Plibersek is, on paper, arguably federal Labor’s best MP.

Yet Plibersek has shown more interest in her alliance to the Emily’s List “sisterhood” than she has exhibited any real interest in a meaningful contribution to issues of national importance, and has behaved like an adolescent with a grudge: not the stuff Australia’s leaders are made of. It is reminiscent of all the worst aspects of the Gillard era but without the unquestionable intellect that drove it (even if, it must be said, Gillard drove things in exactly the wrong direction).

Chris Bowen regurgitates silly Shorten slogans and these days resembles a cardboard cutout; Albanese is better, but there is nothing to suggest this warrior of Labor’s Left would be coherent as Prime Minister let alone connect with anyone beyond his narrow factional base. And Jason Clare, frankly, is a red herring who has singularly failed to fire since Labor went into opposition.

A quick look around the states — some Labor governs, and some it doesn’t — reveals a paucity of genuine leadership talent there too; with perhaps the exception of Cameron Dick in Queensland (thwarted, for now, by Annastacia Palaszczuk’s surprise win at the January state election), there isn’t a leader’s bootlace in sight: plenty of factional bovver boy types and union-controlled stooges (Daniel Andrews and Luke Foley, step forth) but nobody who might obviously emulate the impact of famous Labor names of yesteryear like John Bannon, John Cain, Geoff Gallop, Mike Rann or Peter Beattie (even if some of those names were erased from office in disgrace).

In some respects Labor was always going to retrieve its position in what has for most of the past 20 years been a conservative citadel in WA; as soon as the mining boom died out and commodity prices fell, the government that benefited most from the largesse (as it happens, a Liberal one) was always likely to find the going much rougher.

Yet the signs of this upturn — which, in truth, has been brewing for at least the past year, as readers will see from the Newspoll tables) presents Labor with a quandary.

Here is a leader — young, photogenic, articulate and seemingly talented — something Labor these days rarely, if ever, gets its hands on.

Does it persist with him in the hurly burly of dour state politics, or does it seek to take him to a higher level, and draft him into Canberra?

If it chose to do so, would he flourish, taking federal Labor with him, or would he wilt on the bigger stage as so many who have attempted the move in the past have done?

If it chose to do so, where would it run him? After all, Labor holds just three federal seats of the (soon to be) 16 in WA, and of those, only one — Fremantle — is safe enough to even contemplate parachuting a leadership prospect into.

And if it chose to move him, would it cannibalise the party’s apparent recovery in the West?

This morning’s post is simply to bring McGowan back onto our radar: I suspect we will be talking about this again, and before long — especially if Shorten persists with the populist rubbish that, in the end, sees him only marginally more popular than the deeply disliked Prime Minister he vacuously thinks himself a certainty to replace.

Over to you. What do people think of Labor’s “boy wonder” from the West?



2 thoughts on “Newspoll Lead In WA Presents A Quandary For Labor

  1. They call him ‘sneakers’ over here. He’s a lisping, mumbling moron who will probably fall into the Premier’s Office due to King Colin losing interest in running the State single-handed for the past few years.

  2. McGowan is more competent than Bryan paints him to be, but not as good as your assessment Yale. I recently left the west after working in the resources sector there for 4 years. I think McGowan has been disciplined as an opposition leader but the ALP do not have much to offer as an alternative government – not much talent on display amongst their ranks. They suffer from the common ALP disease of former union officials and Emily’s Listers dominating their parliamentary ranks. They are mostly just playing ‘gotcha’ politics without much in the way of policy development.

    Barnett however has made a rod for his own back with being too reform-shy (energy policy for one) and running up too much debt. Now Mike Nahan has to try to get the budget in shape over the next 2 years to go for re-election with a credible plan to pay down the debt with few options with which to achieve that. Any assets the Government chooses to unload will be sold into a deteriorating economy and bring a reduced return.

    The new core group of Liberal Ministers need to be given some room to emerge as Colin has been such a dominant figure since 2008 – Mike Nahan, Liza Harvey, Albert Jacob and Joe Francis are the nucleus with either Harvey or Jacob to emerge as the next Liberal leader IMO.

    Yes, McGowan may stumble over the line in 2017 but good opposition leaders do not always make good leaders.

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