Colin Barnett’s Liberals are the underdogs heading into the March 11 state election, with the latest opinion polling showing Labor’s Mark McGowan in the lead.
But the opposition leader has a fight on his hands, needing to take 10 seats off the Coalition and achieve a landslide swing of 10 per cent to get across the line.
Mr McGowan also faces a controversial preference deal struck between the Liberals and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, which could put Mr Barnett just back across the line and deliver the balance of power in the upper house to Ms Hanson’s resurgent party.
In the regions, the campaign has been dominated by Mr Barnett’s plan to sell half of Western Power and Nationals leader Brendon Grylls’ policy to increase an iron ore production tax from 25 cents a tonne to $5, which would see BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto paying billions more into state coffers.
The major parties have framed both policies in the context of jobs.
University of Notre Dame political analyst Martin Drum said so many voters were turning away from the two major parties it had made the election outcome unpredictable.
“Everyone talks about a 10 per cent swing for Labor to win government,” he said.
“There’s no way Labor will get a 10 per cent swing on their primary from last time. No way. However, they could still win the election. Why? Because the Liberal primary is slumping and there’s clearly a lot more people voting elsewhere.
Dr Martin Drum on WA’s state election 2017:
“Labor’s has probably climbed a bit, as much as four or five per cent and that might be enough for them to win the election.
“But, because they rely on preferences we can't be 100 per cent sure, so when we try read the tea leaves, it’s pretty tough.”
The Nationals mining tax proposal was being fought by WA’s Chamber of Minerals and Energy.
The Chamber’s chief executive, Reg Howard-Smith, has been watching the electorate closely in the lead-up to the election.
“We’ve been close to the ground over the last few months and the feedback we’ve got is that everyone is concerned about jobs,” he said.
“Resource sector jobs, but jobs more generally always comes at the top of the order.”
Although the tax increase would generate an extra $3 billion in revenue for state coffers, the resources industry has argued it would cost jobs across WA.
Mr Howard-Smith also believed the tax rise, which would require legislation to overhaul state agreements with the two companies, would damage the investment attractiveness of the state.
“We’ve had fantastic support across the sector for this campaign we’re running about iron ore and that’s focused on two companies, but the reason is there are many, many people who can remember the RSPT [Resource Super Profits Tax],” he said.
“When the RSPT was announced on that Saturday the Dockers and the Eagles were to play – I never got to that game – capital dried up instantly.”
Reg Howard-Smith on the election issues facing regional WA:
But Mr Howard-Smith was also concerned about a Nationals plan to give companies payroll tax breaks for workers in the Pilbara who were not fly-in, fly-out (FIFO), an idea which could cost jobs everywhere but in Mr Grylls’ own electorate.
Mr Howard-Smith said the plan would devastate small towns in the South West like Busselton and Manjimup where many FIFO workers choose to live, and where the Liberal Party holds a swathe of crucial seats.
“If you're coming out of Busselton and you've made the choice to live there but to maintain your job you have to travel to the Pilbara, then it’s clearly a matter of choice,” he said.
“Manjimup only has a small number of FIFO workers, in the twenties, but by the time you look at families and everything else, the contribution they make is significant.
“Rio reached out to those workers in Manjimup. At the time the timber industry was closing there were some good operators who they took on, so it just doesn't make any sense.
“They would have the most mature FIFO model, so you have a lot of people coming out of Busselton, a number from Albany, Geraldton, and Broome and Broome is essentially Aboriginal employment.
“That’s working extremely well and I don't think the National party policy is realistic for one moment.”
Where to vote in our regions:
WA Election 2017 – Crunching the Numbers
- To win government, Labor’s Mark McGowan must win 10 seats from the Liberal Party's Colin Barnett, a swing of 10 per cent across the board. Last week’s Fairfax ReachTEL polling puts Labor 4 points ahead on a two-party-preferred basis.
- Opinion polling has Pauline Hanson’s One Nation as high as 10 per cent on its primary vote.
- Colin Barnett’s Liberals will be preferenced by Hanson's One Nation in a controversial deal that could deliver him government and One Nation the balance of power in the state’s upper house.
- In 2001, Labor won government on the back of One Nation preferences after Liberal Premier Richard Court refused a preference deal with Hanson’s party.
- The traditionally fraught relationship between the Liberals and the Nationals has been strained by the One Nation preference deal and a plan by the Nationals leader Brendon Grylls to increase tax on WA’s iron ore companies.
- Nationals leader Brendon Grylls is under threat in his Pilbara electorate from a resurgent One Nation and the risk his proposed mining tax poses to jobs in the regions.
- Pundits find it remarkable the primary votes of both major parties are below 35 per cent and describe the result as “unpredictable”.