Opposition Leader Zak Kirkup has staunchly defended his decision to effectively concede defeat in WA’s election two weeks before polling day, insisting he is taking a “dignified” approach and not “taking voters for mugs”.
But Premier Mark McGowan used the only televised debate of the election campaign to lay into Mr Kirkup for his shock decision to publicly accept he cannot win, accusing the Liberals of “giving in” and asking “why should anyone support them?”
On the day Mr Kirkup stunned his Liberal colleagues with his admission his party was heading towards a resounding defeat, the Liberal leader was grilled during an at-times heated debate on why he made that decision.
But he insisted it was the right call, saying he needed to do whatever was possible to prevent Labor from gaining “total control”.
“The reality is this election is different now and we need to treat is as the unusual election that it is,” Mr Kirkup said.
“I am not going to play you for mugs.”
Kirkup implores voters to avoid giving Labor total control
And Mr Kirkup claimed that, if Labor ended up with too much power, the results could be severe.
“I know what happened in the past when Labor had too much power and a popular premier, it resulted in WA Inc,” he said.
“It is dignified to talk about the future of our state and talk about what it means for democracy if Labor gets too much control.”
But Mr McGowan slammed Mr Kirkup for his early concession, saying the WA way was not to give up.
“If the Liberal Party don’t believe in themselves and the policies they have put forward, why should anyone else?” the Premier said.
“I went to an election in 2013 that was absolutely terrible and diabolical circumstances, but I did not give in.
“I will never, ever give up.”
There were no new policies or promises announced in the 40-minute debate, during which Mr Kirkup interrupted Mr McGowan several times.
But Mr Kirkup also used the debate to attack Labor over its management of the state’s hospital system, claiming WA would not be able to cope with a widespread COVID-19 outbreak – pointing to record ambulance ramping.
“If you can’t get patients into our EDs right now because our hospitals are too constrained, what happens if there is a larger COVID outbreak?” Mr Kirkup asked.
“If there was an outbreak in our state … we wouldn’t be able to deal with it.”
But those claims drew an angry response from the Labor leader, who spent much of the debate talking up his government’s record in the pandemic.
“Mr Kirkup has once again undermined our response,” Mr McGowan said.
“The Liberal Party should stop undermining our response.”
‘We will keep WA strong’, McGowan
Mr McGowan was also questioned on who would hold key offices in his government after the election, again refusing to say who will replace Ben Wyatt as Treasurer.
And the Premier faced scrutiny on what key new policies he would deliver, eventually pointing to a pledge to manufacture rail cars for iron ore operations in WA.
“That makes sure our manufacturing industry in WA gets new projects and new jobs,” Mr McGowan said.
That drew criticism from Mr Kirkup, who accused Labor of running a “small target’ campaign.
“We have been waiting years for a vision from this government,” Mr Kirkup said.
Mr McGowan used the debate to argue the election was about trust.
“Who do you trust to guide our state for the next four years?” Mr McGowan said.
“My record is clear … we have the plan, the experience and the strength to take our state forward.”
Mr Kirkup said the election was about ensuring there was a party to hold Labor to account over the next four years, saying he was focused on ensuring the government “doesn’t go too far”.
“I am fighting for the future of our state,” he said.