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Upside/Downside: WA 2021

With any prediction or forecast, a lot of focus usually goes to the most likely outcome without appropriate consideration given to nearly-as-likely outcomes.

Hence, in the first of what we hope will become a running series, we’ve taken outcomes from both ends of our model’s margin of error (95% CI) for the major parties (Labor, Liberal, National, Green, One Nation), to show the range of possible outcomes within the margin of error. Our intrepid reporter, Rebekah, has obtained a time machine by knocking out a member of the Spanish Inquisition (no one expects the Spanish Inquisition!) and travelled to each of these alternate realities to steal the scoop off their journalists.

The Multiverse Catalogue – WA 2021 edition

#22384779 – Labor’s On Top Of The World (or at least Western Australia)
(Upside: Labor)

WESTERN LABORSTAN

After the official confirmation this morning, we can hereby announce that Labor has indeed stormed the upper and lower houses in an unprecedented, historic victory today. After 25 of 59 seats being called for the ALP before we were three hours into the night, it can hardly be a surprise to hear that Mark McGowan is once again unashamedly WA’s favourite darling, but this outcome must exceed even his wildest hopes. This is only the second time since the turn of the century that a party’s primary vote has exceeded 50% in either state or federal elections. In states which use a single-winner electoral system. Tasmania uses a proportional representation system (Hare-Clark), and voters tend to change their voting behaviour under such a system. In 2011 the NSW Coalition managed 51.2% against an unpopular government, yet Labor has won an astounding 57.5% of the primary vote as a government, coming quite close to the 59% predicted in February’s Newspoll.

In the final 2-party-preferred, Labor has scored a record 68.3% of the vote, won 55 of 59 seats in the lower house, taken over half the seats in the upper house, and therefore has a double majority lock on the whole system of government in WA. They will now reign unopposed: welcome to the future of the one-party state. Every single minor party that still holds a seat in government, including our former and much-to-be-missed opposition the Liberals, is now unnecessary for the business of government.

We look forward to a future of very efficient policy work: we expect that with this newfound capacity to do absolutely anything they wish, Labor will likely end the gerrymandering which has plagued the upper house and Labor ascendency. District malapportionment has continually granted rural WA too many seats relative to the population, and enabled Nationals from those seats to regularly frustrate government legislation. Along with that, we can also expect them to end the upper-house practice of Group Ticket Voting (GTV), rife with preference harvesting and nefarious backroom deals, and which has for some time reduced the Legislative Council race into more of a lottery than a democratic election.

Tears and sobs reportedly echo in Liberal offices throughout the state. In shock from their resounding defeat, few candidates or former MPs have made any formal statements. Part of their wipeout defeat is attributable to having half their key demographics swept out from under them, and while we shouldn’t expect them all to stay with Labor in the next election, the fact that McGowan’s party has eroded so deeply the bastions of Liberal strength challenges the future of Liberals in this state. Farmers, seniors and coal miners – perhaps unmoored by the Libs’ pledge to end coal by 2030 – have moved in unprecedented numbers towards Labor. Leaderless, seatless, delegitimised and voteless, the Liberals may have a long way back to power in this state.

Welcome to our new state of Western Laborstan.

#887666489389 – Surfing the Labor Landslide to Victory
(Downside: Labor)

LABOR TRIUMPH

Labor won last night in a widely-anticipated landslide, and the Liberals are not dealing well. With nearly 60% in the two party-preferred, Labor has easily secured an outright majority in the lower house. The Liberals have managed to hang onto only a handful of seats, and saw a significant drop in their vote share overall – even more than was expected in the case of a Labor victory. The internal party politics have also descended into a vicious frenzy, by all reports.

Liberal voters can take comfort in, if not their leadership’s descent into a mud-slinging cat-fight, the fact that Labor has failed to secure a majority in the upper-house. In one of the most perverse outcomes of the upper house contest, and making headlines everywhere, Labor has lost one of their seats despite gaining several percentage points. The collapse in the Liberal and National vote lead to Coalition preferences being redistributed and giving extra fuel to an obscure and little known group called the Health Australia Party. The Greens, mysteriously preferencing the Health Australia Party directly after themselves, did not help this.

Currently being torn apart on social media by their own supporters, the Greens have offered little to no explanation for this spectacular stuff-up that led to Green votes being transferred to an unusually repulsive specimen of a man named Bass Tadros. Possibly the only person benefiting more than Labor from this election, this 5G-antivax-covid-conspiricist ‘hypnotherapist’ tweeted that he was “delighted to have rightfully made it” to the upper house (on, may we add, less than 1% of the vote). It’s true that they say that a rising tide lifts all boats – even the rotting ones.

We eagerly anticipate the Greens vote taking a hit in future polling in the wake of this fiasco.

Meanwhile, Labor and the Greens together stand without an upper-house majority. The government will be forced to negotiate legislation through the minor parties holding the balance of power. In this, Tadros might be a gift – there’s nothing that brings people together like someone to hate.

If Labor can be proud of anything, it is that they have fully vanquished the Liberals. Despite a belated turn to the left in the late stages of the election, their pledge to make WA coal-free by 2030 could not save their fleeing voter base. Now nastier, ultra-conservative elements of the party are emerging from the shadows to reclaim the party in the name of a “forsaken conservatism”. While the pledge on coal has not been officially revoked, the new leader of the Liberals is a staunch social conservative, frequently deriding the Green’s and savaging Labor for a “social engineering agenda”. In the midst of this identity crisis, many more moderate Liberals have fled – either for a sabbatical from politics, as one member memorably put it, or to neighbouring parties, like the Nationals. The former opposition has descended into infighting and turmoil, and no one knows what the party will look like when the dust settles.

#3398027900 – Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh, Staying Alive!
(Upside: Liberals)

LIBERALS ECSTATIC WITH LOSS

Well, it only took a week post-election, folks, but we finally have another juicy Liberal leak. A sex scandal? No – there’s no Greens hooking up with their local opposition (though we fondly recall the fiasco in Fremantle). Branch-stacking? Nope – thankfully, for the last shreds of dignity the Libs have left. Indeed, the Libs are being lambasted on social media not for incompetence, ignorance, nor ineffectiveness (weirdly enough, considering their performance at the election) but rather for an indecent expression of joy.

An internal memo circulated within upper-level Liberal leadership was leaked yesterday, revealing that not only are the Libs not disappointed with having lost two of their seats in the WA Legislative Assembly, but they’re actually delighted to have held on to the remaining.

“Yeah, they’re ****-ing giddy.” One of the unseated MPs grouses as we interview him. “They’re all in there in the room with you, and telling you they’re so sorry you lost your seat, better luck next time chap, and all the time, you can see it in their eyes – they’re just so relieved it isn’t them.”

At a time when the Libs have managed to hold on to just 11 seats in the face of Labor’s extraordinary landslide, this clear exuberance is grating to the rank-and-file that have remained.

“We lost – just got completely whipped – and Kirkup’s dancing around the bloody meadows just because he didn’t lose his seat?” That’s Gerald, staunch Liberal supporter in Vasse, one of the Liberal’s safest seats. He, like many Liberal voters, isn’t sure whether to credit Liberal leader Kirkup for the party’s unexpected resilience on election day, or blame him for not achieving more.

Zac Kirkup, aged just 34, and with only four years of experience as a sitting MP, came to power in the run-up to a doomed election. Betting markets were putting odds on the Liberals getting less than 5 seats. Kirkup was the sacrificial lamb for a wipe-out election, sitting on the the most marginal Liberal seat in the entire state. Most estimated that both Kirkup and his party would be taken out at the knees, neatly scapegoating and excising the Liberal failure in one fell swoop. Instead, Kirkup has retained his knife-edge electorate, lost only two Liberal seats, and lead the party into a period of rocky stability. An occasion like that surely calls for champagne.

In the meantime, Kirkup’s struggling to strike a balance between crowing over his massive improvement on the polls predictions and denigrating the polling for blatantly favouring Labor, and thus reducing his impressive-seeming gains. In a remarkable show of wisdom, he’s managing to keep mum. However, pundits and psephologists show no such reluctance, and are digging into the worst polling surveys “since 1995 QLD” with relish. Newspoll’s reported 59% primary vote has officially become a laughing stock, raking up painful memories of the 2019 federal poll failure for many on the left. Of course, if there was a polling error that large in the Liberals’ favour, it would also be the largest skew to the incumbent in state polling history, validating a theory that state election polling skews to the incumbent.

Although I’m sure there will be people panicking about “what this implies for federal Labor’s polling” anyway, I will point out ahead of time that state and federal polling errors rarely correlate (QLD polls of federal voting intention were skewed to Labor by 7% in 2019, but QLD state election polls were actually skewed against Labor by 2% in 2020), and such a polling error fits more closely with the idea of an incumbent skew than any theory about polling being skewed to Labor.
Meanwhile, comparisons are being made between Annastacia Palaszczuk, initially interim leader of QLD Labor, and Kirkup – an exclusive club of unlikely election survivors and (potential) future leaders; a comparison Kirkup is no doubt eager to encourage.

Unfortunately for Kirkup, no number of potent parallels will erase the deep appeal of McGowan in Western Australia, nor the resurgent confidence of Labor. After this landslide win, the best that Kirkup will be able to do is leverage his scant seats for some small power in the two houses.

#612341898735 – Kicked Out at the Kirkupian Knees
(Downside: Liberals)

Transposing Major to Minor, Cheers to Tears

What are the implications of the Liberals losing not only the election but their opposition status itself? In a shock to even the reigning victors, the Liberals were reduced to just one fingernail-hold on the lower house – one seat, to be exact – in a historic wipeout. The Liberals pledged to end WA coal by 2030 and lost themselves the coal miners; McGowan’s competent and swift response to the coronavirus crisis lured away the senior population, normally a bastion of Liberal strength. The farmers fled a sinking ship, and almost nothing has been left of the voter base of a once-powerful state party. What conservative voters are left in WA have swung to the Nationals and the scattering of minor right-wing parties. Indeed, the Nationals snatched two seats off the Liberals: though Kalgoorlie, which hasn’t re-elected the same MP since 2008, wasn’t a surprise. Most brutally of all, Ian Blayney (Geraldton) managed to barely hold his seat even as his former Liberal colleagues were booted off theirs, thanks in no small part to a stable National vote amidst the Liberal collapse. Of course, if there was a wholesale collapse of the conservative side, Blayney is very unlikely to hold Geraldton (as a Liberal, he was only re-elected by about 51.3%).

However, if the Nationals gain at the Liberals’ expense, this scenario is not implausible. Thanks to Liberal > National preference flows being stronger than their reverse (usually 85% of Liberal voters preference the Nationals, while 75% of National voters preference the Liberals), our model estimates that Labor would do 1% worse in a Labor vs National contest compared to a Labor vs Liberal contest.

The dust settles and a new Opposition is born from the ashes: the Nationals rise into fields of legitimacy hitherto denied to them as both minor party and the little sibling of the Coalition.

Very few of us know what the future will look like. Indeed, it looks like the ALP is already learning to regret such a cataclysmic win: McGowan has vowed that despite losing opposition party status, his government will attempt to provide the Liberal party with the customary opposition funding regardless – as political cynics have noted, the ALP belatedly realised that they would do anything to weaken the more fervent right-wing parties and are hoping to draw conservative voters back to a familiar locus of power.

The 2021 WA state election stands as a vital reminder to politicians of all stripes: power is a tightrope, and it is all too easy to fall, and all too dangerous to truly triumph.

#347099789 – The Opposition is Dead. Long Live the Opposition
(Upside: Nationals)

The New Opposition on The Block

The world turns, and all things come and go. That includes political parties, which often seem to have the shortest half-lives of any species bar butterflies. Yet I still found myself, waking up on Sunday morning, being told by my wife that the Nationals had become the state opposition, and saying a bleary “What?”

WA is weird. It’s kind of its thing. You might as well scrabble over the official signs and welcome people to “Weird Australia” as they cross the state border. You wouldn’t even have to change our initials. This is the state of constant secession, quokkas, and GTV voting. We had a so-called independent micronation sitting on Perth’s doorstep for fifty years, because it brought in the tourist dollars. The Hutt River Principality, which returned to the Commonwealth amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. We lost a war against emus in 1932, as if we could forget the shame. We passed a referendum to leave Australia in 1933 and then never did anything about it. Memorably, our National and Liberal parties have been in an extended catfight since…forever – and so while the rest of Australia votes for Coalition or Labor, we vote NAT, LIB, or ALP. Ever since the passage of one-vote-one-value reforms in the Legislative Assembly, the WA Nationals are not in a formal Coalition with the Liberal Party, although they do often work together in the legislature.

So I wake up that morning, and you tell me that the Nats have usurped the Libs as state opposition, and the only words I can summon to mind are: “Bloody WA.”

But John, I hear you say, get your ass into gear; tell us what this means. All right, you demanding harridans. You’ll hate to hear me say it, but I see this meaning the return of the Coalition. But not the normal Coalition, no; some weird inverse twilight zone version of it that could only occur in our special state. With the Libs currently holding onto six seats only by the power of National’s preferences, and the Nats themselves holding seven (having filched several from their ostensible allies), the Nationals have become the leaders of the opposition. However, the scarcity of seats on every side (apart from Labor’s landslide lower house majority) will likely see them ally to protect their voters’ interests. But how the tables will have turned: the Nationals, forever undervalued and mistreated by the Coalition, will be the ones leading the partnership this time: it will be the Liberals yoking their vote to the National flagship in a redux of Queensland’s Bjelke-Petersen years.

Of course, that the Liberals and Nationals managed to hang on quite so well will be unfortunate for McGowan’s government. Especially with the Nationals at the head of the opposition, there’s simply no way for Labor to challenge the rural malapportionment in the upper house that grants rural voters distinct over-representation and the Nationals their key seats.

However, we should question if a party that claims to only represent rural WA , that was born the “Country Party of Western Australia” and to this day has positioned itself as a regionalist party taking on the callous metropole, can really make a claim to represent the rest of WA as the official opposition. No longer sidelined, no longer subservient to the Liberals in the spotlight, the Nationals may find that the position of opposition comes with obligations. If they cannot bend to that, then the Liberals may keep their legitimacy as the conservatives of the whole state, not just the farmers.

#906434567 – Moore is Less/ Less is More/ What are we/ in Parliament for?
(Downside: Nationals)

Goodbye, Nationals – You Were Long Due to Leave

All the most enthusiastic predictions have come true, and Labor won in a wipeout on Saturday night. Where has this left the other parties? In tatters. The Libs took a bruising loss, but the Nationals have suffered the greatest humiliation. Holding on now to just two seats, Roe and Central Wheatbelt (their leader’s electorate) , their bargaining power in the lower house has been smashed to pieces. With their corresponding losses in the upper house, they are also unlikely to stop Labor’s inevitable upper-house reform, which will lose the Nationals their ill-gotten rural malapportionment and any hope of winning back several key seats. The National’s time in government, ladies and gentlemen, is coming to an end.

Worst of all, as the Nationals’ vote share fell to just 2%, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation was surging past them to 4%, taking Moore straight off National hands, and earning their first representation in the lower house. The Nationals are a party for farmers, but they might not be the party of the farmers for much longer.

#90728456397 – Big Things Come From Small Packages
(Upside: Greens)

Snowy-White and Pristine: Is a Coal-less WA the Future?

Stock value in coal industries is beginning to tip off a precipice. With the announcement that the Greens have negotiated Labor into a corner in the upper house, and forced them to match the Liberals’ 2021 campaign pledge to end coal in WA by 2030, many Western Australians are worrying about the future of mining in its most iconic state.

Labor holding just 18 seats in the Legislative Council (upper house), one short of the required majority, was a dream opportunity for the Greens, and they have pressed their full advantage. The Greens became the pivotal cog in McGowan’s almost-double-majority government, with the power to either pass Labor legislation, or force them to battle through the resentful array of rightwing parties in the upper house. In return for their general co-operation, and specifically their help in passing electoral reform, the Greens have squeezed from Labor a commitment to end coal in WA by 2030.

Greens across the nation have hailed this victory, which is enabling them to put pressure on their respective governments as well. If WA itself could vow to end coal by 2030, what argument could the other states have for their polluting, belching, blackened coal-fired power stations? Di Natale, the federal Greens leader, congratulated the WA Greens on their impressive bargaining and staunch commitment to Greens values, and in a pointed quip at Morrison, wryly stated that “Australian coal will now be staying in the ground, instead of in Parliament”.

Meanwhile, the future of coal miners and the coal industry might not be entirely in the dark. McGowan has promised a gradual, attentive transition of workers to other industries, and that he is committed to reskilling and ensuring employment for WA’s “most stalwart workforce”.

#76356579 – Provokers Without Borders
(Upside: One Nation)

The Right Wing Showdown

Controversy follows Pauline Hanson everywhere she goes. It’s like a scent, laced with subtle notes of chaos and discord. She can’t help it.

That’s right, Australians of all stripes will be surprised to note that One Nation has successfully won a seat in WA’s lower house and three in the Legislative Council (due to some backroom preference swapping), and then not-so-surprised to note that they immediately threw down with the Nationals about it.

Stridently declaring that the Nationals “have lost their credibility with Australian farmers” and “no longer represent true-blue country WA”, new MP Ian Frizzel for Moore roundly flogged the Nationals on their poor performance in the election, after which a Labor member rose from their bench and asked if they should be taking bets on when Frizzel would flee his party for independence, to a round of laughter.

While Frizzel’s pompous manner and self-important rhetoric is making him no friends among the major parties, the plummet in the Liberal vote has invited many microparty members onto the benches for the first time in the upper-house, and a constellation of similarly puffed-up and self-aggrandizing conservatives are coalescing in the legislative house above Frizzel. They pose a genuine irritation to the government as it tries to get its legislation through an upper-house where it holds no majority but faces quite a few enemies, and if One Nation is smart (a bit much to hope for) they’ll be able to play their handful of cards to harvest a disproportionate advantage.

Or maybe they’ll stuff it up, and provide us with plenty of entertainment in upper-house mud-slinging. Chaos and controversy, remember, is what they do best.

#09235439842 – Minor Parties, Minor Influence
(Downside: Every Minor Party)

Rubber-Stamping Multi-Party Democracy

Today, for the first time in the history of WA’s proportional representation, state Parliament will pass legislation without the involvement of a single minor party or independent. The legislation to be passed is trivial – regular order of business for McGowan – but it is remarkable for what it tells us about the shape of government post our most recent election.

Labor holds the bicameral state Parliament in a double-lock majority after its wipeout win. For the first time in history, they need not negotiate with Greens, Liberals, Nationals, One Nation or any other microparty throughout government – they rule both the upper and lower house, and can create and pass legislation as they wish – so long as they hold party discipline. And Labor, after their astounding victory, is showcasing no splitting at the seams, but rather lively debate, friendly asides, and efficient business. This is the most amiable parliament most of us government journalists have ever witnessed. Whether it will hold for long before individuals start making their break for stardom and a chance in the spotlight is dubious; but for now, it is holding, and there’s no guarantee that even as Labor itself divides into factions that the handful of other parties scattered across the two houses would get a look-in.

Looking at the roster of actual parties present in government, it seems businesss as usual, if a bit skinny. But the numbers tell a different story. While WA is still a multi-party system, those other parties are tokens to party diversity in the highest halls of office. There is one party that drives business, one party that conducts business, one party that passes and approves business – and that is Labor. This is a multi-party system and a one-party government. Aside from doing their jobs and actually representing their seats, there is little reason for any of the others to be here. While Labor can no longer play the blame game in government anymore, as there is no one who could offer any kind of impediment to them, that’s little comfort to the colourful spectrum of political parties that have been left out in the cold.

Enjoy the 2021 WA Election! For those of you who have to vote, we strongly recommend checking out what Antony Green and Ben Raue have to say about voting in the Legislative Council’s group ticket voting system.


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