Sunday, 12 March 2017

My analysis of the Western Australia state election of 2017

The first significant Antipodean election of the year, the state election in Western Australia, has just concluded.

The result proved to be a heavy blow for the Liberal/National Coalition (there is no real difference between these two parties in practice apart from the somewhat more pro-agrarian bias of the Nationals and the type of divisions the two parties represent in Australia at all levels), who have lost more than half of their 2013 seat total, going down from 38 seats to a total of just 18. Many of these seats were lost on swings of more than 10% from Liberal to Labor, normally a very difficult feat in Australian elections (and for that matter, British elections of regional and parliamentary level, but not Canadian elections) indeed barring special circumstances.

This ends the Premiership of the Liberals' Colin Barnett, who was first elected in 2008, and even before that he was no stranger to controversy (for example, he sponsored a bill to raise the age of consent for homosexuals from 16 to 18 back in 2004, and whilst premier he supported legislation that would have allowed the police to search and seize property without reasonable suspicion that a crime had been committed ). It is frequently the case that the longer a government or coalition stays in office, the bigger the scale of defeat when it does happen (especially when modern democratic politics is more multi-party than ever), and this election proved to be no exception to this iron law of psephology. A primary reason for the Liberals' defeat to Labor was its increasingly hard line on social issues, as well as the controversial Roe 8 highway that would have decimated wetlands near Perth. Labor promised to cancel the Roe 8 project completely if they won.

No other party, nor any independent candidate, managed to win a Lower House seat in this Western Australian election. The WA Greens failed to come close to winning Fremantle (which they briefly held under Adele Carles after a 2009 by-election before she left the party; she stood as an Independent and ruined the Greens' chances of holding it in 2013); despite the fact Adele was not making another attempt at the division, the Greens' first preference vote actually decreased by 0.9% from 2013. It collapsed meanwhile in Kimberley, which they had turned into a 3-way marginal in 2013, partly because their 2013 candidate, Chris Maher, was not running this time and due to a tactical squeeze by Labor supporters. One Nation, the most right-wing and racist party in Australia, meanwhile, failed to come within striking distance in any division, and Pauline Hanson's preference deal with the Liberals cost them dearly, with two candidates opposed to the deal being disendorsed during the campaign. Of minor parties and independents, only the Australian Christians and Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party achieved respectable results (>5%) in more than one division, and of the Independents, the only ones to achieve more than 5% of the vote were Robert Johnson, a former Liberal MLA who resigned from the Liberal Party last year and ran as an Independent this year in the Hillarys division which he had represented as a Liberal, Independent councillor Matt Whitfield in the new division of Baldivis (out of all the non-Liberal/National, non-Labor candidates, he came closest to winning a Western Australia Lower House seat this time) Independent councillor Dave Schumacher in Dawesville (he nearly doubled his 2013 first preference vote share there), Roe 8 development supporter Steve Portelli in the division of Cockburn, and pro-assisted dying candidate Alida Lancee in the division of Cottesloe, which remains the safest Liberal division in Western Australia's Lower House and is represented by Colin Barnett himself. The Flux Party and Micro Business Party, meanwhile, failed to make any real impact at all in spite of Flux's innovative ideas for (electronic and online) democracy and voting in particular. The Julie Matheson for WA list, nothing more than a vanity project for former Australian Greens candidate Julie Matheson, bombed; Julie herself achieved a derisory 0.65% of the 1st preference vote in the North Metropolitan Region for the Legislative Council.

Meanwhile in the Upper House, officially the Legislative Council, the Liberal/National coalition lost control, being reduced to 14 seats from 21, equal to that achieved by Labor. The Australian Liberal Democrats (a libertarian party in practice) won a seat there despite having little presence in the campaign. The Greens increased their LC total from 2 to 3, One Nation won 2 which was considerably below polling expectations, and the SFFP retained their 2 LC seats. The fact that Western Australia's Legislative Council is divided into regions with six seats each limited the potential for minor parties to enter, even though minor parties have been increasingly successful in gaining Upper House seats in Australia from low primary votes.

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