The Australian Labor premier that oversaw one of the toughest domestic border closures during the COVID-19 pandemic is calling it quits, saying the pandemic years exhausted him.
West Australian Premier Mark McGowan, 55, made the surprise announcement on May 29 revealing this would be his final week as premier and treasurer of the mining-rich state.
“This week will be my final week,” he told reporters. “I’ve loved the challenge of solving problems, making decisions, getting outcomes, and helping people.
“But the truth is, I’m tired—extremely tired. In fact, I’m exhausted,” he added, in a comment reminiscent of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s resignation.
“The role of political leadership does not stop, it is relentless. With huge responsibility but it is all-consuming, each and every day. And combined with the COVID-19 years, it has taken it out of me.”
The premier has served in Parliament for over 26 years with 11 of those as leader of the state’s Labor Party. Prior to this, he was a naval lawyer.
“That’s nearly 30 years in public life. It has been an honour and privilege to serve the people of the state in my community over this time,” he said.
McGowan’s Track Record
McGowan maintained the toughest border closures during the pandemic years and was one of the last Australian jurisdictions to open up travel to unvaccinated people.
Further, the premier adopted a harsh elimination strategy to deal with outbreaks of COVID—sometimes locking down the entire capital of Perth (over 2 million people) over one or two cases of the novel coronavirus.
At the same time, the premier also set one of the highest vaccination targets for the state (90 percent of the population) before opening up the borders.
The Western Australian (WA) government was able to do this because of high international commodity prices that drove up the value of iron ore—the state’s biggest export—which kept the WA’s ledgers in the black despite the border closure and economy being shut down intermittently.
This, in turn, encouraged McGowan to adopt a conciliatory attitude towards the Chinese Communist Party—despite international condemnation of the regime over the outbreak—and to also publicly reprimand then-Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison for standing up to Beijing.
The premier was also the second major Australian political leader to visit China this year, following Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews.
Meanwhile, McGowan also oversaw contentious changes to the state’s electoral system for the upper house of the WA Parliament and engaged in a protracted legal fight with mining billionaire Clive Palmer over the economic damage of his government’s border closures.
More recently, he has moved to tighten gun ownership laws even further, effectively outlawing a whole swathe of weapons.
The premier has proven popular, however, winning two resounding election victories in 2017 and 2021—the latter result saw the Liberal-National Coalition reduced to just six seats in the 59-seat lower house, leaving the state opposition struggling to find a way to combat Labor electorally.
High Praise From Labor Colleagues
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has praised McGowan.
“He has been a great premier of his proud state, an extraordinary leader for WA Labor and a trusted friend,” he said in a statement.
“Above all, Mark will be remembered for seeing the people of Western Australia safely through one of the most challenging crises in our nation’s history.”
Treasurer Jim Chalmers said McGowan was an “absolute joy to work with.”
“A huge figure, not just in the West but on the national stage as well. A big loss,” he wrote on Twitter.
Really sad to see @MarkMcGowanMP announce his retirement as Premier and Treasurer. Mark was an absolute joy to work with, and great company too. A huge figure, not just in the West but on the national stage as well. A big loss.#auspol #wapol @westaustralian pic.twitter.com/fyaDq4unLw
— Jim Chalmers MP (@JEChalmers) May 29, 2023
While Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said, no one fought for WA like McGowan.
“Determined, progressive, hard-working, and fair. A great leader with a lot to be proud of. Walking down the street with him is like hanging out with a political rock star,” she wrote on Twitter.