After two terms of government under Colin Barnett the Liberals have taken a belting in Western Australia. Anger at high unemployment and the threat of further privatisation has delivered the ALP a landslide win.
The enormous 16 per cent swing against the Liberals is another major headache for Malcolm Turnbull. Already in deep trouble in the polls, the result is another blow to an already weak government.
Labor needed to win ten additional seats to form government—but it picked up 20, securing a sizeable parliamentary majority. The Greens saw their vote stagnate, but still took three upper house seats.
Barnett’s promise to privatise Western Power, the state-owned energy provider, backfired as Labor and the unions campaigned strongly against it.
The Liberals have presided over fiasco after fiasco. The opening of Fiona Stanley Hospital was delayed due to IT problems. The IT blow-out cost $150 million. Hospital service contractors Serco were still paid $118 million during the delay while the hospital was without patients. The new Perth Children’s Hospital had asbestos discovered on site, lead detected in the hospital’s drinking water, and more than 900 door frames had to be ripped out after it was revealed that they did not comply with Australian fire standards. The hospital is still not open.
Finally there was Barnett’s reckless commitment to build the Roe 8 highway extension. The project cut through the environmentally sensitive Beeliar Wetlands. The government manipulated the business case for the road and the environmental report to justify it going ahead.
Despite community opposition which included mass protests, “lock-ons” to machinery, and dozens of arrests, clearing of the land for the road went ahead. Barnett’s hospital building projects made his government look incompetent; Roe 8 made it look overbearing and corrupt.
One Nation stalls
One Nation was estimated at up to 13 per cent of the vote in opinion polls. Their result of 4.7 per cent in the lower house was far worse than the party had expected. But ABC election analyst Antony Green has pointed out that, because One Nation did not run in every seat, it polled an average of 8.1 per cent in the seats it did contest. It also managed 8.1 per cent in the upper house across the state, winning two seats.
One Nation’s rise stalled, but they are far from finished. Their upper house vote was double their Senate result in last year’s federal election.
But their preference deal with the Liberals undermined One Nation’s outsider status and showed how hollow their talk of standing up to the political elite is.
The One Nation deal also seems to have added to the swing against the Liberals. But the federal Liberals are refusing to rule out similar deals with One Nation in future.
One Nation is being embraced and legitimised by the Liberals, as Hanson’s party supports key Liberal policies in the Senate including welfare cuts and the anti-union Australian Building and Construction Commission.
Hanson and Turnbull are so close that when Pauline Hanson took out her phone to call Malcolm Turnbull in front of angry Queensland farmers in December, he answered straight away.
One Nation’s campaign put the lie to the Liberals’ disgraceful claims that the party is more “sophisticated” than 20 years ago. Their bigoted, far right politics were on clear display.
Hanson’s bizarre comments on vaccination and her support for Russian strongman Vladimir Putin sat alongside continued racist outbursts against Muslims.
One of their candidates said growing support for equal marriage was the result of “Nazi-style mind control techniques” used by the gay community. Another said being a single mother was a “lifestyle choice” designed to grab welfare money.
Beeliar’s Wetland Defenders, union members, public sector workers and many others can celebrate the departure of the Barnett government. Labor leader Matt McGowan has promised to stop the Roe 8 highway and the privatisation of Western Power.
But McGowan shares the same neo-liberal economic mind-set as Barnett. He has signalled his intention to rein in government spending on an already down-sized public sector. Labor even ruled out a proposal from the National Party to boost taxes on the mining companies through increased royalties.
There will not be any greater push for renewable energy (McGowan admitted as much), an end to the over-incarceration of Aboriginal people in the state or any further public housing.
Mobilisations like the Beeliar Wetlands campaign show the possibility of a real fight for change. It will be up to the unions and grassroots activists who helped push out Barnett to keep up the fight for jobs and against privatisation and racism, and redouble the fight against the ABCC and penalty rate cuts.
By Phil Chilton