Former federal minister Stephen Smith has been accused of disloyalty and bringing the “Canberra disease” to Western Australia by confirming he will challenge Mark McGowan’s leadership and run for premier if the party wants him.
Mr Smith revealed on Sunday he had been asked by people on the backbench and frontbench to put his hand up, and after a lot of soul searching had decided to do it if the majority supported him.
“Their rationale was that under our current arrangements we’re not in a position to win 10 seats on a 10 per cent swing and therefore form a prudent, responsible, competent state Labor government,” Mr Smith told reporters.
“I would consider my obligations to the state, to its long-term interests and also my obligation to the party.
“The issues are too great to run the risk of the re-election of the Barnett government.”
Mr Smith, 60, accepted that Mr McGowan, who had polled well as opposition leader, was a decent and hardworking leader, but said some people had approached him with concerns about the March 2017 election.
“They accept his diligence, they accept his hard work, they accept his earnestness, but they are not confident that he can win,” he said.
The former defence and foreign affairs minister said he did not necessarily see the issue being resolved at Tuesday’s caucus meeting either.
“I will draw a line under it when I have come to the conclusion that the final view of the state parliamentary Labor is to continue with the current arrangement and I will do that in a responsible way, in a way which does not do damage to the Labor party,” he said.
If Mr Smith is successful, he will have to seek pre-selection, possibly in the seat of Baldivis, which Mr McGowan has earmarked for his senior media adviser Reece Whitby, who previously lost twice in Morley.
Mr McGowan addressed the media flanked by several senior colleagues, including upper house leader Sue Ellery, deputy leader Roger Cook and shadow treasurer Ben Wyatt, saying Mr Smith’s plan was ill-conceived and would damage Labor’s current good prospects of winning the election.
“Stephen has brought the Canberra disease to Western Australia. The party doesn’t want it, the public doesn’t want it,” he said.
“All Mr Smith has done is help Colin Barnett and the Liberal Party, and potentially snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.”
Mr McGowan called on Mr Smith and his backers to call it off, adding he would not be undermined or roll over.
“I will not give in to this sort of behaviour. I will not be intimidated out of the job that I want to do for the people of Western Australia,” he said.
Mr McGowan added it was grossly irresponsible and disloyal of Mr Smith to drag the issue out beyond this week.
“In political life, disunity is death,” he said.