West Australia Set to Stay Liberal Highlighting Gillard’s Plight

Western Australia is set to return the state Liberal Party to power this weekend as voters at the forefront of the nation’s mining boom underscore the waning popularity of Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s Labor party.

State Premier Colin Barnett’s Liberal-National coalition had a 56 percent to 44 percent lead over Labor on a two-party preferred basis, according to a Galaxy poll published in the Sunday Times on Feb. 24. If replicated in tomorrow’s voting, that would give the Liberals up to 32 seats and Labor as few as 20 in the 59-seat state lower house, the newspaper said.

Labor is in opposition in the four biggest of the nation’s six states and trails in national polls ahead of the Sept. 14 federal election. In Western Australia -- where Labor holds just three of 15 seats in the federal parliament -- Gillard’s tax to snare mining profits has alienated voters in the state that produces a third of the world’s traded iron ore.

“Barnett looks to have a lock on power,” said Zareh Ghazarian, a politics lecturer at Monash University in Melbourne. “Especially at a federal level, Labor is on the nose in Western Australia due to some of its policies that are perceived to be anti-mining, an industry that’s the lifeblood of the state.”

Barnett, 62, won power in September 2008, ending more than seven years of Labor rule, by forming a coalition with the Nationals. He’s campaigning on his economic record and is pledging to improve health services and toughen his government’s stance against crime. State Labor leader Mark McGowan is vowing to improve public transport and cut electricity bills.

Mining Boom

Western Australia, more than three times the size of Texas, is enjoying a decade-long boom comparable with its 1890s gold rush on Asian demand for its resource riches. The state has an investment pipeline of A$141 billion ($144 billion), more than half of Australia’s total, according to estimates from the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics.

Work is progressing on Chevron Corp.’s A$52 billion Gorgon liquefied natural gas project and BHP Billiton Ltd.’s expansions to iron ore operations. The state is also home to mining magnates such as Australia’s richest person Gina Rinehart and Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. founder Andrew Forrest.

Reflecting the strength of the resources industry, final demand in the state surged 14.2 percent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, Australian Bureau of Statistics data released March 6 shows. Western Australians have the highest average earnings of any state and an unemployment rate of 4 percent, against the national average of 5.4 percent.

The Feb. 22-24 Galaxy telephone survey of 800 people didn’t give a margin of error. The two-party preferred measure is designed to gauge which major party is likely to win the seats required to form a government.

Campaign Kickoff

At Barnett’s campaign kickoff in Perth on Feb. 17, federal Liberal leader Tony Abbott lauded the premier’s victory in 2008, which came when Labor held power in the national capital Canberra and in all six states. Now, Labor leads in just the two smallest states economically, South Australia and Tasmania.

“There is one bad government yet to go,” Abbott said. “That’s the big one in Canberra which must fall if our country is once more to flourish. There are two elections, my friends, this year, very important elections.”

During the 2008 election, the Liberal-Nationals secured 51.9 percent of the two-party preferred vote compared to Labor’s 48.1 percent. Barnett swept to power after the incumbent, Labor’s Alan Carpenter, called the election five months before it was due, the earliest in Western Australia in 100 years.

Victoria Leader

The Liberals and Nationals won 29 seats between them in the 2008 election. Labor won 26 and independents four.

In Victoria, a state in the slow-lane of the nation’s two-speed economy, Premier Ted Baillieu stepped down on March 6 after the resignation of a party lawmaker jeopardized his government’s parliamentary majority. Baillieu, who will remain a member of the state parliament, was replaced as Liberal Party leader by Denis Napthine, who was minister for major projects, ports, racing and regional cities.

At a federal level, Gillard’s ruling Labor party trails the Liberal-National opposition by 10 percentage points, according to a Newspoll survey published in the Australian newspaper Feb. 26.