The 33-year-old Member of Parliament Zak Kirkup will become the youngest West Australian Liberal leader in 20 years as his rival pulled out shortly before the party room meeting.
Kirkup’s opponent, former cabinet minister Dean Nalder, announced his withdrawal in a statement released on Tuesday, saying it was clear that the numbers were not on his side, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
“It has become apparent that I don’t have the majority support of my parliamentary colleagues and therefore will clear a path for the new leader,” Nalder told AAP. “I have been humbled at the level of support from my electorate and the wider community.”
Kirkup’s victory means the Liberal party would welcome its youngest leader since Matt Birney’s short-lived reign in the mid-2000s.
“I think anyone should judge a person by their actions and not by their age,” Kirkup said on Monday.
He will serve his first term as the party leader, replacing Liza Harvey who stepped down just four months prior to the state election in March. Her resignation came after months of gloomy polling for the party, which has been reduced to just 13 of 59 seats in the lower house.
“Given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our community, it has been extremely difficult for our message to resonate,” Harvey said.
Born in 1987, the newly elected Liberal leader had his first step into the public sphere at the age of 19 when he started working for the WA Liberal Party in 2006.
He rose through the ranks to become the youngest ever Deputy State Director under MP Ben Morton and an adviser on environmental issues in the office of former Premier Colin Barnett.
After the 2013 state election, Kirkup switched to the private sector, working with building company BGC, but it was not long before he re-entered politics with a winning seat of Dawesville in 2016.
“I’ve made it clear that there’s a real opportunity here for some hard work and energy to go into the team of the new possible Liberal leader,” he said.
Kirkup will face off against Labor Premier Mark McGowan, whose approval ratings have reached record highs in recent months, with his hard border closures being extremely favoured by voters.
His Labor government is widely predicted to win a second term and is targeting further marginal Liberal seats after winning by a landslide in 2017. Kirkup’s seat of Dawesville is among those at risk of swinging to Labor, with a margin of just 0.7 percent.
In a preview of Labor’s campaign strategy, McGowan said the besieged Liberals were “not fit to govern”.
“They’re very unstable, they’re inexperienced, and they’re risky, and this state does not need that at this point in time,” he said.
Former Liberal leader Liza Harvey, meanwhile, declined to endorse either Liberal candidate, according to an ABC report on 24 November.
However, she noted in her resignation statement that she doubted the Labor Party’s ability to handle the post-COVID-19 situation.
“Prior to the onset of COVID-19, the Labor Government was a do-nothing government,” she said.
“While they have done a good job of closing the borders initially, the difficult part is coming out of the lockdown. It is clear the Labor Government has no plan to manage this.”
AAP contributed to this article.