From Liberal leadership to rock lobsters — what to look out for in WA politics in 2019
It could be an interesting year for Opposition Leader Mike Nahan (L) and Premier Mark McGowan. (ABC News)
With a federal election due in the first half of the year amid the Morrison Government’s perilously weak grip on Parliament, even the most devout WA politics watchers will be focused on matters beyond the state’s borders in the coming months.
But even though federal affairs are set to dominate any political dinner table discussion in the near future, it still shapes as an interesting year in State Parliament, as the McGowan Government approaches the halfway mark of its first term and the Liberals seek to gear up to try to topple Labor in 2021.
Here is a look at some of the big questions and issues looming in WA politics in 2019.
Will euthanasia be legalised?
It’s not clear whether voluntary euthanasia legislation will make it through the WA Parliament. (ABC News: Eliza Laschon)
The euthanasia debate looks to be the big political issue of 2019, with both sides of the argument gearing up for a debate sure to be both lengthy and divisive.
Parliament will vote on a bill, expected to propose legalising voluntary assisted dying for terminally ill patients, in the second half of 2019.
Extra sitting weeks have been allocated and, if the debate in Victoria is any indication, expect plenty of late night sessions of Parliament and heated exchanges before the matter comes to a close.
Number counters expect the bill will make it through the Legislative Assembly comfortably and while those advocating for voluntary euthanasia to be legalised are cautiously optimistic they will get enough votes in the Upper House, it remains far too close to definitively call and the decision could go down to the wire.
What will happen with the Liberal leadership?
Dr Nahan’s leadership was boosted by the election of Alyssa Hayden in the Darling Range, but Sean L’Estrange (R) is a potential Liberal leadership contender. (Twitter: Sean L’Estrange)
In some ways Mike Nahan could view 2018 as a relatively successful year, with his WA Liberal Party easily holding the seat of Cottesloe at a by-election, and then winning Darling Range back from Labor after the Barry Urban saga.
But nearly two years after he took on the top job, Dr Nahan has struggled to shake a perception among some colleagues and other sections of the community that he is only keeping the leader’s chair warm.
Muffled leadership chatter has been constant during his time in the role and it flared up at moments in 2018. At one point he accused colleagues of “white-anting” him, while a tense war with the state’s daily newspaper led to a brief period of heightened speculation.
The key question remains who would take over if Dr Nahan were toppled.
Liza Harvey, Dean Nalder and Sean L’Estrange are potential alternatives, yet none have yet been willing to put their hand up for the job, while Cottesloe MP David Honey is a possible left field candidate.
Liberals will undoubtedly be doing plenty of thinking this year about who is the best candidate to lead them to the election.
Will there be any more prison problems?
Probably the Labor Government’s biggest headache in 2018 was the state’s prison system, highlighted by chaotic scenes in the Mid-West when 10 prisoners escaped amid a riot that caused millions of dollars’ worth of damage.
A review painted a damning picture, finding that systemic failures led to the riot and that warning signs were not heeded.
Then the early release of three prisoners through bureaucratic bungles caused further embarrassment for the Government.
There were loud calls for Corrective Services Minister Fran Logan to be axed, but Premier Mark McGowan came to the experienced MP’s defence and kept him in his job following a minor cabinet reshuffle in December.
The Government is hoping investment in new jail units and a prison officer recruiting drive will ease problems in the system, but any more major incidents are likely to lead to heavy pressure on Mr Logan.
Will there be a jobs turnaround?
Creating jobs through a diversified economy was Labor’s main rallying cry before the 2017 election, but WA ended 2018 with a higher unemployment rate than when the McGowan Government came into office.
The data is not all bad news — the workforce is nearly 50,000 people larger than it was in March 2017 — but a 6.5 per cent unemployment rate clearly is not an ideal outcome for a Government that has long boasted of its “plan for jobs”.
The Government will be hoping increased public sector construction work and an improvement of the mining sector get that number trending in the right direction in 2019.
Can the Government weather the rock lobster storm?
The WA Government’s shake-up of the rock lobster industry is causing consternation. (ABC Rural: Karen Hunt)
Rock lobster policy is rarely a source of serious consternation for a Government, but there is something of a storm brewing over the Fisheries Minister’s shake-up of the industry.
Under Dave Kelly’s plans, the State Government will increase the rock lobster quota to 8,000 tonnes but keep 17 per cent of that for itself and lease it to the private sector.
The response from the industry has been one of fury, with Western Rock Lobster labelling the plan “outrageous” and commercial crayfishers warning the move could threaten their livelihoods.
If the controversy does not ease, questions will likely be asked around the cabinet table about whether the plan is really worth it.
What else should I watch for?
This year will be an important one for the Government’s flagship Metronet project. (Peter Major: User submitted)
WA’s finances are set to finally be back in the black, with the increase in GST revenue providing a much-needed budget boost. The full extent of that will become clearer after the May budget.
2019 is shaping as a crucial year for the Government’s Metronet public transport plans.
Construction is due to get underway this year for the Morley-Ellenbrook and Thornlie-Cockburn lines, as well as the Yanchep extension.
The Government will also seek to get the airport rail project back on track after a series of hiccups and a lengthy delay.
And it will be hoping its controversial decision to award Chinese telco Huawei a $200 million contract for a public transport mobile data network blows over.
But a global scandal involving the company, culminating in the arrest of its chief financial officer, have the potential to lead to much closer scrutiny of the deal.
WA Nationals leader Mia Davies has faced leadership speculation over the past year. (ABC News: Jacob Kagi )
In terms of leadership chatter, the Liberals will undoubtedly draw the most attention, but there has been some speculation about the future of Mia Davies in the top job for the Nationals.
Terry Redman is seen by some as an option to return to the leadership, but it remains unclear whether that will amount to anything beyond occasional chatter.
The recent minor cabinet reshuffle meant any Labor backbenchers hoping for a promotion will be waiting a bit longer.
But if any vacancies do open up in 2019 there will be stiff competition for an elevation.
Cabinet secretary Amber-Jade Sanderson and first-term MPs Jessica Shaw, John Carey and Reece Whitby would be among those likely to be in the mix.