Western Australian election: Mark McGowan declares victory for Labor after record-breaking swings

Calla Wahlquist

Mark McGowan has declared victory in Western Australia as record-breaking swings put the Labor party on track to double its representatives in state parliament.

Swings of up to 20% were recorded in outer-suburban seats in Perth, while swings of more than 11% were recorded in 14 previously Liberal-held seats – securing a Labor 34 seats in the 59-seat parliament.

The number of seats declared for Labor was expected to increase to 41 as counting continued, more than double the number the party previously held.

It took just over an hour for pundits to declare the election, with the outgoing premier, Colin Barnett, conceding defeat by 8.30pm local time, just two-and-a-half hours after the polls closed.

The federal Liberal party frontbencher Michael Keenan, speaking on ABC24, labelled it a “savage result”.

The Liberal party’s primary vote dropped 16.1% across the state. The Barnett government ministers Albert Jacob, John Day and Andrea Mitchell lost their seats, despite sitting on healthy margins, along with a host of other senior Liberal figures including the Speaker, Michael Sutherland.

Addressing an elated crowd at the Rockingham community centre at 9pm, McGowan, flanked by his wife, Sarah, and their three children, said WA had voted for “hope and opportunity over desperation and division”.

“Today we showed we are a state of decency and intelligence, not a state of stupidity and ignorance,” he said.

McGowan said Labor had “shown the way for the rest of the country”.

“The core Australian values of equality, fairness, merit and opportunity shone through in this election campaign,” he said. “They are West Australian values, and they are Labor’s values.”

Labor campaigned on a platform of opposing the controversial Perth Freight Link and the proposed sale of 51% of Western Power, and promised to reduce the state’s mounting debt – which is tipped to reach $41bn by 2020 – by diversifying the state’s economy and curbing spending.

It has also promised to build a $2.5bn urban rail project, dubbed Metronet, and to invest in social policies.

McGowan was elected to parliament in 1996 and became opposition leader in 2012. He moved to Western Australian in 1988 as a legal officer in the Australian navy, stationed in Rockingham.

“I love this place,” he said. “It’s done more for me than I can ever repay. I came here 27 years ago in my Corolla across the Nullarbor, and today the people of Western Australia have made me premier. Thank you.”

He also acknowledged Barnett’s contribution to the state and thanked him for “his many years of public service”.

A clearly emotional Barnett told Liberal party faithful in a concession speech at Cottesloe that they had run “a great campaign” but had faced a difficult task in convincing the public to give them a third term.

“To me, the overwhelming factor was time,” he said. “And it is a phenomena I guess, particularly in Australian politics, that the electorate, the voters, only give a government, a people, a certain amount of time.”

The Barnett government, which was in a loose coalition with the National party of WA, had governed for eight and a half years, during a turbulent period in which Australia had five prime ministers.

“When we won the election in 2008 and I became the state’s 29th premier, I made some commitments,” Barnett said. “Some to myself and some I made publicly. The one I made to myself was that I would give it my best shot. Maybe that wasn’t good enough but, I assure you, I have given it my best shot in every sense.”

Earlier on Saturday Barnett refused to comment on whether a preference deal with Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party had turned voters away from the Liberal party.

Hanson, whose party appeared on track on Saturday night to pick up one upper house seat, said it was clear that voters were sick of Barnett. She suggested Barnett’s unpopularity had hurt One Nation’s vote, which was tracking at 4.5% – about half the level of support predicted in the polls.

The National party of WA, which was predicted to take a double hit from both One Nation and industry backlash from its proposed mining tax, gained ground in some regional seats while others swung towards Labor. The party leader, Brendon Grylls, said on Saturday night that his seat was too close to call.

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