Former federal Labor minister Stephen Smith has conceded his current bid for the WA Labor leadership is facing inevitable rejection after shadow cabinet expressed its “unanimous confidence” in Mark McGowan.
A former defence, foreign affairs and trade minister, Mr Smith announced on Sunday he had been approached by a number of Labor MPs to lead the party to the 2017 election, and would take over if the majority wanted him to.
However after meeting on Monday morning, Labor’s shadow cabinet issued a statement urging Mr Smith to back down.
“All members of shadow cabinet express their unanimous confidence in Mark McGowan as leader, today and going forward to the election in March 2017,” the statement said.
“Shadow cabinet advise Stephen Smith of this decision and calls on him to withdraw immediately.”
A motion is set be put to the Labor caucus on Tuesday calling for MPs to support Mr McGowan and for Mr Smith to withdraw. There are 20 Labor MPs in the shadow cabinet out of the total caucus of 31.
In a statement, Mr Smith said he was aware of the shadow cabinet’s decision.
“That makes a comparable decision by the State Parliamentary Labor Party tomorrow inevitable,” he said.
“I have repeatedly made it clear today that I will accept and abide by a decision of the state parliamentary Labor Party in this matter.
“After tomorrow’s meeting of the state parliamentary Labor Party, I will again make this undertaking publicly.”
Mr McGowan said the matter was now “over” and Mr Smith should heed the message from shadow cabinet.
“My advice to Stephen is to end it now and end it forever,” he said.
“I take my colleagues at their word and my colleagues have advised me that they support me, they don’t want any truck with this issue and this process that Stephen has undertaken.”
Smith engaged in ‘vanity project’: Labor MPs
Earlier, the majority of frontbenchers arriving at State Parliament for the meeting expressed strong support for Mr McGowan.
Frontbencher Paul Papalia said it was an “absolute vanity project” by Mr Smith.
“When Stephen Smith said he will decide, he told the West Australian people he doesn’t care about them, he told the West Australian Labor Party he doesn’t care about them and he told the entire caucus he doesn’t care about us,” Mr Papalia said.
“He just cares about himself.
“We don’t want him, we won’t need him and he’s damaging our chances at the next election.”
Labor’s police spokeswoman Michelle Roberts also stated her support for Mr McGowan while fellow frontbencher Rita Saffioti said she was “looking forward to the end of the Stephen Smith vanity project”.
Meanwhile local government spokesman David Templeman said Mr Smith was yesterday’s man and said he should “get out of the way”.
“Those that are disgruntled, if there’s only a few of them, need to put up or shut up,” he said.
Labor MPs approached me: Smith
Speaking before the shadow cabinet meeting, Mr Smith rejected Mr Papalia’s accusation and said he would not have acted if he had not been asked.
“He is wrong when he says this is all about me,” he said.
“If no-one from the parliamentary party had approached me, I would still be doing the things I’ve been doing since I retired and enjoying to so do.”
He added a Newspoll which suggested Mr McGowan would lead Labor to victory in the election was not credible.
“No-one believed the 42 per cent Newspoll figure,” Mr Smith said.
“The last time Labor had a primary vote of 42 at state or federal level in Western Australia, Bob Hawke was prime minister.”
Smith not destabilising Labor: Johnston
Other Labor frontbenchers appeared to support Mr Smith before the shadow cabinet meeting.
Bill Johnston told reporters the party should consider every leadership option, and Mr Smith had a right to stand.
“I don’t think that putting yourself forward in a competitive process is destabilisation. I don’t agree with that analysis,” Mr Johnston said.
Meanwhile Labor shadow cabinet member and state president Peter Tinley indicated his determination to topple the Barnett Government.
“[As] party president of WA Labor and a frontbench member of Mark McGowan’s team, I am completely committed to winning the next election. And the leader has my full support,” Mr Tinley said.
Federal Labor member for Perth Alannah MacTiernan said the leadership issue needed to be settled quickly to prevent it harming Labor’s federal election campaign.
She accused Mr Smith’s former staff of being behind the leadership push, and questioned his ability for the job.
“He’s a very photogenic guy. He’s been used to strutting the international stage and they see that’d be pretty funky to bring him in at a state level,” she said.
“But there’s a lot of donkey work that has to be done at a state level, it is actually about delivering services.”