The winner of the WA election is a foregone conclusion. The question is, just how hard will the loser get spanked?
The West Australian Liberals look set to make history at this weekend’s election but for all the wrong reasons.
The party has braced itself for a devastating election wipe-out, with newly minted leader Zak Kirkup making a staggering concession weeks before Saturday’s poll.
He also accepted he could lose his seat of Dawesville south of Perth – which he only won by a few hundred votes in 2017, giving him the Liberal’s second lowest margin in WA of 0.8 per cent.
Mr Kirkup then proclaimed such a loss would mean the end of his political career after just one term.
The most recent Newspoll taken a few weeks ago had Labor with a whopping 68-32 lead on a two party preferred basis, suggesting a 12.5 per cent swing to the party from the 2017 election result.
If replicated across all electorates, the Liberals would be reduced to an unprecedented two seats in the lower house, out of 59.
The party currently has only 13 while Labor holds 40, the biggest majority it has ever had.
On the eve of the election, another poll emerged predicting Labor’s Lisa Munday would win Dawesville with an epic 60 per cent of the vote on a two party preferred basis, representing a 10.7 per cent swing to Labor.
The last time the leader of a major conservative party lost their seat in WA was 88 years ago when the state’s 13th premier, Sir James Mitchell, was deposed.
That was a heck of a year, when the people of WA voted to secede from the Commonwealth by a margin of more than two to one.
Curtin University politics expert John Phillimore said he wasn’t convinced the Liberals could go as low as two seats in the lower house.
“There is a possibility that Labor will just get an absolutely thumping big swing to it, but it might just be in its own seats – marginal seats will suddenly become very safe Labor seats,” Professor Phillimore told NCA NewsWire.
He said the Liberals would “almost certainly lose a couple”, probably starting with Hillarys where the margin is just 0.4 per cent.
“Even if it’s just a 6 per cent swing (towards Labor), which doesn’t seem like a lot in the current polling climate, that loses them and the Nationals combined six seats,” Professor Phillimore said.
“Can the Liberals hold their safest four seats, which have all got margins above 10 per cent?
“You’d think four of them would be safe and they are all sitting members … but then after that, we’re in uncharted territory.”
The Liberals could even officially lose opposition status to the Nationals.
“Everyone is scratching their heads saying ‘could it actually happen?’ Nobody is quite sure but it’s certainly not looking good,” Professor Phillimore said.
Political analyst William Bowe said he also felt the Liberals wouldn’t fare quite as badly as predicted in the published polls, saying betting odds that suggest the party would be left with half a dozen seats were “more realistic”.
“2017 was a historic disaster and if they go backwards from that even a little bit, that’s a horrible result,” Mr Bowe said.
“Time will tell.”
He said the Liberals’ desperate last-ditch warning to voters to not give Labor “total control” may have gained some traction, lassoing back some who had planned to change sides for the first time.
“They’re picking the low hanging fruit by doing that – they might save a couple of seats,” Mr Bowe said.
“I can point to past occasions where it didn’t work: Anna Bligh threw herself on the mercy of the voters at the 2012 (Queensland election) campaign … it was the worst election defeat I’ve observed.
“But that was on occasion when they wanted to punish a government they didn’t like. Here, it’s a case of the Liberal party pleading to people who are naturally Liberal voters.”
Mr Bowe said that plea could be working in regional areas where voters may fear a Labor-controlled upper house would be city-centric and stacked against them, but it would probably only help the Nationals keep their current five seats.
He said the broader community, however, didn’t appear worried by the prospect of Labor gaining control of both houses.
In the gender diversity stakes, Labor is also looking way better than the Liberals, replacing its outgoing male MPs with female candidates while the conservatives have gone the other way.
Two of the Liberal’s at-risk seats are Darling Range held by Alyssa Hayden and Scarborough held by former leader Liza Harvey, while Anthony Spagnolo has stepped in for Riverton, held by retiring MP and former leader Mike Nahan.
“There’s always been a problem with the Liberal party and it’s gender representation. Now, they’ve only got 10 men and three women,” Professor Phillimore said.
He said a major blunder by Mr Kirkup on the hustings was his ambitious ‘New Energy Jobs Plan’ given the idea in politics was to “surprise your opponents, not your own side”.
Mr Bowe said there had been talk that some in the Liberal party viewed the policy in the South West – where coal sector jobs would be lost under the proposal – going down like “a horror show”.
Then there was Thursday’s election commitments costings debacle – an epic balls-up in a shambolic campaign.
Accountancy firm Hall Chadwick revealed it only tallied up the figures provided by the Liberals but its work “did not include an analysis or calculation of the underlying items that make up each individual commitment”.
“Why even bother? Do your homework,” Professor Phillimore said.
“If you’re not prepared, don’t do it.”