CANBERRA—The left-leaning Labor party secured re-election in Australia’s least populous state on Sunday as voters backed the party for implementing some of the country’s most stringent restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Labor is predicted to claim up to 53 out of 59 lower house seats on the back of a stunning 13 per cent swing in Saturday’s election.
“The magnitude of what happened today is not lost on me. With it comes great responsibility,” state Premier Mark McGowan told supporters in Perth, Western Australia’s capital.
The election was seen a referendum on McGowan’s hardline handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Deputy Premier Roger Cook said voters had rejected the Liberals’ campaign against handing Labor too much control.
Retiring former Liberal leader Mike Nahan told the ABC that he believes a call by the Liberals to open WA borders while the state continued to deal with COVID-19 had done “immense” political damage.
With Western Australia taking a restrictive approach to the containing the spread—including shutting its domestic border to the rest of the country for months—the state has recorded fewer than 1,000 COVID-19 cases and nine deaths.
Australia has reported just over 29,000 coronavirus infections and 909 COVID-19 deaths.
Opposition Leader 34-year-old Zak Kirkup called McGowan about two hours after polls closed on Saturday to formally concede defeat.
Kirkup lost his marginal electorate of Dawesville, becoming the first WA Liberal leader to lose his seat since the 1930s.
He reiterated that he would not seek re-election at a state or federal level.
“It is a loss that will be difficult to bear,” he said in his concession speech.
“But in so doing we must remember that 2021 is not an end but a beginning. In so doing, we must remember that it is an obligation we all have to make sure that over the next four years, we do all we can to help rebuild this party.”
Results suggest the Liberals’ nightmare scenario has become reality, with the party set to be reduced to just two MPs and lose their opposition status to the Nationals and their leader Mia Davies. Her party is on track to hold five lower house seats.
By Colin Packham. AAP’s Michael Ramsey contributed to this report.