Labor’s enormous win in the 2021 state election still holds enough poison for the Liberal brand as the federal poll draws near.
The damage done to the WA Liberals by that historic landslide defeat, which reduced the party to just two seats in the Legislative Assembly, was not only at the ballot box.
It further stripped the party of cash donors, prompted a humiliating and immensely divisive internal review, and upended the party’s structure.
Anyone who says Mark McGowan’s 14 per cent two-party preferred swing (much higher in individual seats) won’t have a residual effect when voters decide between Liberal and Labor federally is kidding themselves.
WA is coloured red right now.
Don’t forget Nedlands, South Perth and Churchlands fell Labor’s way.
Even the prime minister was at pains during his visit in mid-March to remind voters that if they tick a box for the blue team in May, Mr McGowan will still be their state premier the following morning.
Strangely, he tried the same electoral sales pitch the morning after the South Australian Liberal government fell to Labor after one term in office.
“What I know is that Anthony Albanese is not Peter Malinauskas,” Scott Morrison said of the untested Labor premier.
“He is not any of the other premiers.”
Some political pundits argue Mr Morrison was a drag on the Liberal vote at the SA poll.
If true, he’s potentially a dead weight in WA come the federal election.
Some of Mr Morrison’s pandemic posturing damaged his standing with voters in this state and attempts to paper over the cracks during his March visit will only add to the cynicism.
In a television interview last August, for example, he appeared to describe Western Australians as COVID-fearful cave dwellers.
He even referenced a children’s movie, The Croods.
“COVID is a new, different world, and we need to get out there and live in it,” he said.
“We can’t stay in the cave, and we can get out of it safely.”
This may have been a salient point about any state stuck in a lockdown and hard border mindset.
Mr McGowan pounced on the comments as further ammunition for his WA-versus-the-rest strategy.
On top of that, WA wasn’t in lockdown at the time and was a free society within its own borders.
Fast forward to March 17 and the joint Morrison-McGowan press conference to announce $100 million in top-up funding for a new pedestrian bridge and the planned Edith Cowan University campus under the $1.7 billion City Deal.
Within five minutes of speaking, Mr Morrison had used the words “strong”, “effective” and “productive” to describe the “partnership” he had with Mr McGowan and his government.
It’s obvious why he was so gushing in the popular premier’s backyard; the PM wanted to assure WA voters there was no angst between the pair over COVID policies (or the Morrison government’s initial backing of Clive Palmer’s WA border challenge, for that matter).
Voters might recall Mr Morrison even warned at the time it was “highly likely” WA would lose to Mr Palmer in the High Court.
It was such a dumb play.
Of course, the federal Liberals have much to trumpet about the Canberra-WA relationship.
Mr Morrison certainly fixed the GST disparity in 2018.
However, four years on, the party has problems in WA beyond its control.
The unsavory departure of Pearce MP and former attorney-general Christian Porter is one issue.
In the seat of Swan, incumbent Steve Irons is also retiring and leaving behind a slender 3.2 per cent margin for Liberal candidate Kristy McSweeney to cling on to as she tries to fend off Labor’s hopeful Zaneta Mascarenhas.
Despite having a strong local member in Liberal minister Ken Wyatt, Hasluck (held by a 5.9 per cent margin) is also in play for Labor.
If voters decide to paint the town red again, these three seats might be just the beginning of the end for the Morrison government in WA.
The problem for the PM now is that if voters still hold a grudge for The Croods jibe, or his position on Mr Palmer, then their opportunity to exact revenge is only a few months away.
Sometimes it can be the simple things that stick and sway opinion at the ballot box.
“I wasn’t referring to Western Australia, at all,” Mr Morrison said this month when asked about his 2021 cave remark.
“So, I can only disagree with the presumption of your question.”
Nice try, but a pub test on the sincerity of that deflection would fail.