The Barnett Liberal government, which had been in power for the past eight years, was definitively trounced in the March 11 WA state election. A defining theme was the government's accumulation of $40 billion of debt despite governing through an unprecedented mining boom.
The big winner was the Labor Party, which on the back of a 9.1% swing has won 42 seats, 12 more than the 30 needed to secure a majority. There was a 15.8% swing against the Liberal Party which lost votes to both Labor and One Nation.
One Nation, which at one point was polling double digits, failed to live up to expectations. Its momentum was derailed by its preference deal with the Liberals, which exposed the myth of its anti-systemic pretensions and a number of candidates who opposed the deal were either sacked or resigned.
The confused comments by One Nation leader Pauline Hanson on child vaccination and her admiration of Vladimir Putin added to the sense of chaos, and further damaged the standing of the Liberal Party.
One Nation ended up receiving only 4.9% of the total vote. However, this figure alone is deceptive as it did not stand candidates in all lower house seats. In the three Legislative Council (upper house) regions covering greater Perth, the party polled between 6.4% and 7.87%. In the three rural regions its vote was between 10.5% and 13.5%, winning it two members of the upper house. They will be joined by at least one member each from the Liberal Democrats and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers.
While there was a decisive swing to Labor, the Greens’ vote only rose by 0.5%. The shift to Labor was so strong in Perth's southern suburbs that it looks likely to have squeezed out Lynn MacLaren, Greens member of the Legislative Council for the South Metropolitan region. Greens member for the Mining and Pastoral region Robin Chapple is also unlikely to be returned. But in a case of swings and roundabouts the Greens are on track to pick up seats in North Metropolitan (Alison Xamon), East Metropolitan (Tim Clifford) and possibly South West (Dianne Evers).
Socialist Alliance focused its efforts in Perth's southern suburbs, running in two lower house seats and the upper house region of South Metropolitan. The party's results of 2.1% in Fremantle and 1% in Willagee represented an inversion of its 2013 result where it got 1.2% and 1.9% respectively. However, the boundary between the two seats has changed significantly, making seat by seat comparisons difficult.
The modest rise in Socialist Alliance's overall vote comes in the context of strong swings to Labor (Fremantle 7.5% and Willagee 9.8%) in what were already safe Labor seats. This trend also squeezed the Greens vote, which decreased in Fremantle by 0.2% and rose by 0.7% in Willagee.
This shows that the electoral expression of the huge community struggle waged against the hated Roe 8/Perth Freight Link project was largely absorbed by Labor, which promised to terminate the project if elected. Labor also took the previously safe Liberal seat of Bicton, which was in the path of the freeway.
Interestingly, the National Party was insulated from the savage swing against the government. They marked out their distance from the Liberals last year by proposing to lift the iron ore royalty levy from 25c a tonne, a figure set in the 1960s, to $5 a tonne. The proposal was attacked by Liberal and Labor, and the mining industry staged a $2 million advertising blitz reminiscent of the fear campaign mounted against the Kevin Rudd Resource Super Profit Tax.
In the seat of Pilbara the scaremongering by the mining bosses did its job, costing National Party leader Brendon Grylls his own seat. However, across the state the National Party vote only contracted by 0.7%, and they look set to retain five seats in the lower house and drop from five to four in the upper house.
The enthusiasm with which the National Party's mining tax proposal was circulated on social media, in contrast to its unanimous rejection by the Liberals and Labor, underlines the pro-capitalist consensus on which Australia's two-party political system rests beneath the election time froth and bubble.
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