Scott Morrison Christian Porter western Australia 2019 Federal Election
Scott Morrison and Christian Porter campaigning in WA (Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

Oft forgotten Western Australia is looking to be decisive in the federal election, with Morrison and Shorten both groping at the state’s proverbial sand. The leaders’ debate was held in WA last Monday, with the two leaders making multiple trips to and from Perth, their sweaty handshakes dampening our atavistic desire for secession. 

But there is a definite whiff of desperation coming from both camps as they try to woo WA voters in wavering seats.

Labor is tilting for Pearce, Stirling, Swan, and Hasluck — two held by ministers, one vacated by a minister-turned-retiree. The Coalition are shooting for Cowan, a once-safe Labor seat made vulnerable by the economic-flux of the boom.

Hannah Beazley is running in Swan, the seat held by her father Kim for 16 years, and Christian Porter, son of Charles “Chilla” Porter (himself a Liberal Party heir), is just clinging on to the seat of Pearce. This all lends the WA race a nice dynastic bent, allowing a sense of born-to-rule entitlement to sneak into the mediocrity that makes up election’s mid-shelf candidates.

It is hard, as a West Australian, not to view the federal election — and the visiting leaders — from the perspective of the two mud-shovelling peasants from Monty Python’s The Holy Grail: “How do you know he’s the PM? He’s the only one not covered in shit.”

WA has fallen into an existential miasma after the mining boom’s once in a blue-moon windfall was piddled away by the Liberal Barnett government’s poor planning and cronyism, and an avaricious GST (something Morrison has promised to change).

But Shorten and ScoMo both arrived in the West barking the usual hollow echoes of national hero-quests, solemn apologies, and wistful promises. Both tunes ring tinny in a state that fuelled Australia’s prosperity but got little in the way of attention or gratitude.

What many politicians and commentators fail to grapple with when they discuss the strategies and policies peddled by leaders in WA at election time is the psychic split through which West Australian voters view their mountebank antics.

To view Canberra and its goings-on from WA is to hold an empty peach-tin to your ear, as messages pass down its copper (not fiber) cable from a creaky, occupied outhouse.

We are not, like those in the outhouse, privy to all the bullshit.

Whether that distancing is real in a political, economic, or cultural sense is not the issue. Voters perceive the neglect to be real; thus, so do think tanks, and thus, so do our enlightened leaders.

And so the optics of Shorten and ScoMo and countless would-be PMs before them landing their dirigibles at our mega-pits and surf clubs don’t inspire much more than a “yeah, nah” from WA voters.

The reason Hanson and her gaggle of crooked loons did so well here in the state election was because the Barnett government, and the federal Liberal leadership, left much of their base disaffected and disillusioned by their management of the boom. There was a gross misunderstanding of West Australian voters’ needs and grievances.

When MP Steve Irons stands up and tells people that the Liberal government delivered on their promise to “stop the boats”, he might as well be telling West Australians that John Butler has ditched the Trio and  is releasing new music: we know! We do not care!

Sicking the tired old dogs of “boats” and “taxes” on West Australians reveals the contempt and distance at which we are held by the hollow men on both sides of the aisle.

Yes the GST is a big deal here, but the psychic scars are long made, and may be unfixable. WA receives 47 cents for every dollar it sends to the nation’s coffers (up from 34 cents in 2017-2018). The federal government is proposing a GST fix that would leave the sate $4.7 billion better off, which would cushion the state’s post-boom freefall.

But the issue of WA and how it is helped or used by the federal government goes beyond promises of tax cuts, jobs and even much needed infrastructure. The fix may be there, but the trust is not.

The key issue is one of narrative. Where does Western Australia fit within the Australian narrative, one that has traditionally kept it at — for want of a better word — a distance. How will people who see us as backwards ever lead us forward?

As the nation now stands rudderless, isolated, forgotten, stagnant and somewhat dull, there is some karmic relief for us sand gropers as you “t’other siders” realise that Australia may just be the Perth of the world.

Peter Fray

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