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Western Australia: two elections for the price of two

If the thought of one election campaign is your worst nightmare, then pity the West Australians. When Julia Gillard announced a September federal election it meant two campaigns being run simultaneously…

Western Australians are heading to the polls twice this year. Jay-Oh

If the thought of one election campaign is your worst nightmare, then pity the West Australians. When Julia Gillard announced a September federal election it meant two campaigns being run simultaneously in the country’s largest state.

It’s Labor versus the Liberals and Nationals, of course, so the names remain the same. But that may be the problem. It’s never been that easy to separate state and federal election issues and it’s going to get a lot harder for West Australians.

There are some clear “state” issues like whether Colin Barnett’s Liberal government will be tougher on crime than Mark McGowan’s Labor claims it will be. Law and order is “bread and butter” in a state election campaign.

And states' rights isn’t something that will play out at a federal level, though Tony Abbott may express some level of support for a devolution of power from Canberra, a move that would aid his state Liberal colleague in Barnett given the level of dissatisfaction in WA with how GST revenue is distributed by Canberra.

Asylum seekers arriving by boat escorted by Australian navy patrol boats near Christmas Island. AAP/Scott Fisher

Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott will both be working hard to convince voters during the federal campaign - all seven months of it - that they have a handle on the “problem” of asylum seekers. Immigration, after all, is a federal issue.

Detention centres and their associated issues have the feel of a “local” issue in Western Australia. Similarly, Christmas Island is much closer to Western Australians than it is to everyone else.

But elections are traditionally won and lost on economic management and this is something that will be played out at both levels.

While Gillard’s federal Labor government is having a hard time convincing voters of their economic credentials, WA’s Treasurer Troy Buswell recently announced that the state budget is likely to sink into deficit in the next financial year. This was an interesting turn of events, given that Barnett has said he’ll not lead a government that is in deficit.

The mining tax will feature in both campaigns, as will the carbon tax (very unpopular in this resource rich state) which is a headache for WA Labor, which has been working hard to try to convince voters not to punish the regional son for the sins of the federal father.

So far, they’ve had little success and it may now be impossible. Polling is showing that voters are punishing state Labor for federal Labor’s policies and a federal election occurring simultaneously will make that worse.

Buccaneer Archipelago off the coast of Western Australia. PR/Paul Gamblin

Environmental issues are playing against Barnett in Western Australia, for those who care. But the federal Labor government hasn’t made a lot of ground on environmental issues in WA either. The marine parks plan was largely well received, but the Gillard government has not proven the saviour that many of those who opposing the gas hub planned for James Price Point had hoped it would be. So Labor might not have done enough to convince voters for whom this is an issue that they care about environmental protection.

Education was once exclusively a state issue, but the development and implementation of national curricula and NAPLAN have made it as much an issue in federal elections; and Gillard has made it very clear that she’ll be making education a federal election issue. So primary and secondary education appear to have morphed into federal issues.

Health is another issue that used to be more important at the state level than at the federal level, but the Gillard government, with its many reforms, appears to also have largely made that a federal level.

Leader of the WA Nationals Brendon Grylls and WA Premier Colin Barnett at Parliament House in Perth. AAP/Nicolas Perpitch

One question that arises at the state level for the Nationals is whether Brendon Grylls can keep playing his game of pretending not to be natural coalition partners with the Liberals and try to convince voters that his party isn’t just the regional version of the Liberal Party.

This was always going to be difficult, given that the polls are showing that Barnett’s Liberals will pick up enough seats that the Nationals would have a lot of trouble convincing people it makes sense for them to support a Labor government.

The federal Nationals are not going to look kindly on any game of the proverbial political silly buggers that Grylls might want to play, an area where the WA Nationals have some history.

There’s some gap between elections, but once voters get confused they can stay confused for some time. But when they come to vote, it will probably be for parties on the right of politics.

Join the conversation

10 Comments sorted by

  1. Stephen Ralph

    carer at n/a

    Why would the WA state gov have a deficit with all that mining money flowing.

    1. Judith Olney


      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      The vast majority of the mining money is not flowing in Stephen, it is flowing out, to multinational mining corporations, only a very tiny percentage actually benefits the people of WA.

  2. Riddley Walker


    There's another player on the field, and that is the Greens. They get a much bigger primary vote than the Nationals, but have less influence because of the electorate system.

    It's just a little rude not to mention them at all though, don't you think?

    1. jean wilson


      In reply to Riddley Walker

      This is poor journalism Ian Cook. If you write an article on W.A. politics, please comment on all the political parties. I would like to know more about the Greens in W.A., and their possible influence on the 2013 elections.

    2. Glenn Jennings

      eLearning Specialist

      In reply to jean wilson

      Respectfully (and as an apolitical observer) I would think a member of The Greens should already know much about the party in WA... or do we as academics not declare our bias these days? At least Mr Walker is open about his position (see other posts).

      On the other hand, if you're not Barbara Jean Wilson of The Greens, as found with a simple Google search, I humbly apologise.

    3. jean wilson


      In reply to Glenn Jennings

      Hello Glenn. "jean wilson" is not my real name, and the person you found on google is definitely not me. I live in qld and would have liked to have read more about election prospects in w.a. i have some family living in perth, and take an interest.

  3. Judith Olney


    As a Western Australian living in a remote country town, I have no trouble at all distinguishing between state and federal issues, but the attitude that people are confused, and not quite smart enough to distinguish between the two governments seems to be typical of political commentators today. I find this patronising in the extreme.

    Living in the country, the WA Nationals are popular because of the "Royalties for Regions" initiative. Far from being political silly buggers, we have seen very…

    Read more
    1. Judith Olney


      In reply to Judith Olney

      Another issue for all Western Australians is the number of heavy haulage vehicles on our roads. State Labor wants to make use of and upgrade our rail systems in the country areas, this would mean that freight would be cheaper for country businesses, and farms, and would also mean the there are less heavy vehicles using the roads. Less heavy vehicles means safer roads for other road users, less pollution in both the city and country areas, and far less destruction to road surfaces, which is costly and time consuming to repair.