McGowan’s Departure Marks the End of Labor’s Golden Era

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The grind of politics is tough. It requires stamina, commitment, and focus.

It is exhausting in every sense. Physically in the long hours. Intellectually with the reading, preparations, and deliberations. Emotionally with the decisions that need to be made not only in public policy but time from loved ones as well.

Exhaustion is the reason given by popular West Australian Labor Premier Mark McGowan for his bombshell resignation announcement. An announcement that nobody predicted.

Others may speculate as to “real reasons” but in the absence of any clear alternate rationale his explanation deserves to be taken at face value.

Having been elected in 1996 to the seat of Rockingham, he became Labor leader in 2012 and won the premiership six years ago. In anyone’s language that is a long innings, to use the cricket analogy. To be captain of the team for ten years is no mean feat either.

His popularity with the Western Australian community was undisputed. His was a personal, nearly messiah type, following. A 91 percent approval rating in any opinion poll is stratospheric and Mark McGowan achieved it.

Epoch Times Photo
Premier of Western Australia Mark McGowan speaks during the Labor Party election campaign launch at Optus Stadium in Perth, Australia, on May 1, 2022. (Paul Kane/Getty Images)

At the last state election, he reduced the Liberal Opposition to just two seats, winning 53 of the 59 lower house seats. A juggernaut election result.

While his success is largely attributable to his prowess, the state of the Liberal opposition must have played a substantial role as well.

The lack of leadership on any issue of consequence, together with policy announcements that would’ve wrecked the economy, like closing the last coal-fired power station more quickly than Labor was proposing, made it exceedingly difficult for Liberal voters to remain loyal, let alone for swinging voters to go anywhere else on their ballot paper but to Labor.

Politics is akin to sporting contests. To succeed, the team only has to be better than its opponents. The weaker the opponents, the bigger the winning margin.

The scorekeepers at the Liberal end of the ground were not over-taxed. Two out of fifty-nine seats is a horror showing unlikely to be repeated but indicative of the match fitness of the respective sides.

As economies were imploding and suffering hardship from isolation because of COVID, the McGowan government, being bankrolled by massive royalty streams from iron ore exports, saw the West Australian economy flourish, allowing Labor to sell its economic credentials.

Federal Labor similarly has been able to avoid the immediate pain of overspending by relying on royalties from Australia’s natural resources. Once the demand softens, the state of West Australia’s budget will be looking somewhat less rosy.

Where to From Here for Labor?

Most analysts would agree that the success of the Albanese election win in 2022 was largely based on its success in Western Australia, which was built on the state Labor brand, which in turn was built on the McGowan brand.

With the departure of McGowan, the federal Labor team will need to work exceedingly hard to maintain its very high number of West Australian seats in the federal parliament.

On the state level, McGowan’s departure will breathe new life and hope into a very dispirited opposition. There will also be the breathing of division and jockeying and background briefings against colleagues in the once unified Labor ranks.

A number of ministers have already touted themselves as replacement material in an unseemly manner.

The day of resignation should have been a day for the retiring Premier and for the media reporting his legacy. Instead, overanxious leadership contenders allowed their names to go forward as potential replacements.

Deputy Premier Roger Cook must be considered a front-runner given his wealth of experience and ministerial loading. Transport Minister Rita Saffioti has put herself forward, and others are testing the waters.

Epoch Times Photo
WA Deputy Premier Roger Cook (C) looks on as Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan speaks to media during a press conference at Dumas House in Perth, Australia, on May 29, 2023. (AAP Image/Richard Wainwright)

This promises to become an untidy and unsteady period for the Labor government as personal ambition makes way over stability and unity.

Those not successful in the leadership ballot will not dutifully place their leadership baton in the storeroom. It will remain within easy reach and displayed at any opportune time.

Leaders leaving public office because of exhaustion is a variation of the usual reason of “family.” Gruelling as politics and public life are, spare a thought for long-term leaders and premiers who have served for much longer and in more onerous roles.

Mark McGowan’s departure from Western Australian politics will see the end of a golden Labor era, the likes of which are never going to be repeated. McGowan will go down in Labor history as a worthy entry into its pantheon of heroes.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

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