“It is unprecedented, but we are in an unprecedented time.”
Mr Kirkup’s new message that he was not going to win, on the morning of a televised debate with Premier Mark McGowan and in a week where early voting started, was all about being honest with the public and going all in on trying to convince them not to give Labor ‘total control’ of parliament.
Like Churchill, Mr Kirkup has told Liberal supporters assured annihilation is coming for them but he has yet to follow up with the rousing speech to convince the party faithful to fight Labor on the beaches of Dawesville and Hillarys.
Several rusted-on Liberal callers to 6PR on Thursday morning did not rise to the underlying message of a call-to-arms and instead pilloried Mr Kirkup, telling him he had lost their vote for rolling over.
Many of his own supporters on the opposition benches were feeling dejected after being caught by surprise with the move, which some thought put the party in ‘pity vote’ territory.
The concession has sucked the energy out of a Liberal campaign that has not even been officially launched yet with some MPs wondering what they were making community commitments for if voters thought there was no substance behind them.
Liberal MLC Steve Thomas told ABC radio on Thursday morning he would have preferred a message that the Liberals may be unlikely to win but were still trying hard to.
Mr Kirkup tried to spin the message to volunteers manning the poll booths, saying the Liberal Party was in the fight of its life and would battle to the end, as opposed to them wondering what they were doing standing in 39 degree heat with no hope.
Mr McGowan did not miss a beat as the New South Wales-born transplant said it was not the West Australian way to throw in the towel in the face of adversity, a line you’ll probably be hearing for the rest of the election now.
“I think West Australians never give up … we shouldn’t presume how people are going to vote,” he said.
“We should respect West Australians and let them vote in accordance with what they think and then we should respect the outcome.”
One sports betting agency has already called the election following the Liberal white flag and paid out a Labor win, even though punters would not have made much money given Mr McGowan was an unbackable favourite at $1.02.
The same bookie has the Liberals as favourites in only seven lower house seats – Bateman, Carine, Cottesloe, Churchlands, Nedlands, South Perth, and Vasse.
Vasse and Cottesloe are the only safe bets for the Liberals with the other five electorates rated as key seats which could fall to Labor.
The one head-to-head debate between Mr McGowan and Mr Kirkup did not do much to move the needle of the election on Thursday night.
Mr Kirkup was the better debater, speaking clearly, not using notes, and coming off as genuine with ‘truth’ his new message as he painted himself as an honest politician even though it’s an oxymoron.
The premier was often looking back to his notes and flubbed a few of his responses at times but stuck to his core messaging around keeping WA safe, the economy strong, and never giving up.
The format of a televised debate favours the opposition with the target well and truly on Mr McGowan. He was raked over the coals for the close-calls in his government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis but his results of no community cases in WA easily overshadow what was a legitimate line of questioning.
Mr Kirkup fell into the trap of speaking over the premier at times when Mr McGowan always let his opponent speak.
The opposition leader focused on his ‘total control’ line and avoided talking about his signature energy policy at all which would have opened him up to rolling blackout jibes from the premier if mentioned.
Mr Kirkup stayed clear of nearly all of his policies from the past few months and instead scoffed at the premier’s first four years in the job and spoke up the dangers of another WA Inc situation.
In the end Mr Kirkup had a solid showing, with no killer blow, on one of the most bombastic days of the campaign trail.
He will have a bit of swagger in his step coming into the weekend and will need to take that feeling into next week when he tries to fire up Liberals at his impending launch on Monday.
Determining a debate on its consequences, the showdown should be called in Mr McGowan’s favour as the premier got over the speed hump without any disasters which now allows him to get on with his juggernaut campaign.
With the dust settled on Thursday’s events, it remains a head scratcher as to why Mr Kirkup went the whole hog on saying the election was over when a lot of his messaging asking the public to vote for strong local representatives could have been done without going the nuclear option.
There are still two weeks to go in the election but already 50,000 people have voted at early polling centres.
A ringing endorsement
The topic of political donations and transparency has been bubbling away in some sectors of the WA media, including WAtoday, with questions around public perception when parties took money from the likes of property developers and casino operators.
Former Premier Brian Burke, who was jailed in the fallout of WA Inc, came out of left field this week and rubbished Mr Kirkup’s comparisons of the state’s greatest political scandal to a government under Mr McGowan.
Mr Burke, who was the state’s most popular premier before being usurped by Mr McGowan, did tell The Australian the current Labor leader deserved his plaudits but should do something about political donations from developers.
“It will always be an issue and I think the government would be wise to adopt the same prohibition that they have in NSW and Queensland,” he said.
Mr Kirkup has been escalating his WA Inc attacks against the McGowan Government by saying the state was in the midst of Mark 2 of the 30-year-old scandal.
Planning Minister Rita Saffioti has hit back at the mud slinging this week and said political donations to Labor never influenced decisions.
“Any suggestion otherwise is an offensive and desperate smear on the eve of the state election,” she said.
The devil is in the detail
The regional seat of Kalgoorlie is a tough three-way contest between the Nationals, Labor, and Liberal incumbent Kyran O’Donnell.
You need every edge you can in the marginal electorate so it was a bit of a bungle on Wednesday when Mr O’Donnell included a link for finding early voting centres on his Facebook page which went through to a Labor Party-run website that only has the preferences for one of his opponents.
The Liberals also copped heat for one candidate peddling a debunked COVID-19 cure.
Labor was also derided by the Liberals for preferencing the No Mandatory Vaccination Party ahead of the opposition in Riverton when its candidate, Jags Krishnan, was a doctor.
The promises you might have missed this week
Some of the marginal seat pork barrelling we saw last week has continued as the Liberals desperately sandbag the electorates they already hold while a Labor flood tries to overwhelm them.
Labor was even campaigning in Bateman, which has been held by retiring opposition MP Dean Nalder, in a show of confidence that even traditionally safe Liberal seats could be up for grabs.
Mr McGowan officially started his campaign on Sunday by unveiling a plan to create 125,000 jobs with a promise to manufacture iron ore rail car components in WA.
Meanwhile the Nationals were up in their most marginal seat, Geraldton, launching their campaign and continued to drop big Royalties for Regions promises including a $35 million arts package.
The country party is also more than happy to take the first preferences that the Liberals might have lost from Mr Kirkup’s latest election strategy.
Peter de Kruijff is a journalist with WAtoday.
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