Friday, November 27, 2020
Politics

Liza Harvey’s decision leaves WA Liberal Party with uncertainty ahead of 2021 election

Liza Harvey's decision leaves WA Liberal Party with uncertainty ahead of 2021 election
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Just 111 days from an election that MPs have been fearing could lead to a historic wipeout, Western Australia’s Liberal Party finds itself rudderless and facing some big questions about its future.

In some ways, Liza Harvey shocked colleagues with her abrupt decision to quit as Opposition Leader — most Liberals first learned of the it when a statement was sent to their WhatsApp group on Sunday morning, before she confirmed it in a three-minute press conference an hour later.

But, in other ways, Harvey’s decision was a long time coming.

Her future had been an open question within the Liberal Party for months, with MPs left increasingly despondent by poor polling and fears they were headed for an electoral cliff on March 13.

Liza Harvey’s decision to step down was, in some ways, a long time coming.(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

Talk of a challenge long persisted, but that window passed when nobody put up their hand at what was to be the final pre-election partyroom meeting.

That left a bloodless transition as the only realistic path for a change — and Harvey’s resignation will allow for that.

“I’m standing aside to give the Liberal Party — with a new leadership team — the opportunity to reset our election strategy and give the public a real choice at the March election,” Harvey said in her resignation statement.

Kirkup, Nalder most likely successors

But the Liberals now find themselves facing uncertainty on every angle about an election that is just around the corner.

The first issue, clearly, will be who should take on the leadership.

Health spokesman Zak Kirkup and Shadow Treasurer Dean Nalder have both declared their hands, confirming they will nominate for the position.

A mid shot of WA Treasurer Dean Nalder wearing a blue suit and black tie talking to reporters outside State Parliament.
Shadow Treasurer Dean Nalder has put up his hand to contest the Liberal leadership.(ABC News: Benjamin Gubana)

Other nominees could still be a possibility — Cottesloe MP David Honey and Churchlands MP Sean L’Estrange have previously been seen as possible contenders — but Kirkup and Nalder are seen as the most likely victors.

As for the deputy, Vasse MP Libby Mettam looks to be a strong contender to take over from Bill Marmion, who is likely to face pressure to relinquish his plum seat of Nedlands for new blood.

Whoever does take on the top job will have precious little time to make policy decisions and sell themselves to the public as a viable alternative to Premier Mark McGowan.

And uniting a Liberal team that has now battled internal tensions for years will also be a top priority.

From high hopes to potential wipeout

As for Harvey, Liberals had high hopes for her when she took over the leadership from Mike Nahan in mid-2019.

She had ministerial experience, a compelling backstory and what they saw as the likeability and charisma to win over the pubic.

Liza Harvey wearing a light blue jacket, standing in front of dark green shrubs.
Liberals had high hopes for Liza Harvey when she took over the leadership from Mike Nahan last year.(ABC News: Benjamin Gubana)

Initially, Opposition MPs were encouraged by the results, but concerns mounted during the pandemic — particularly about Harvey’s decision-making over the interstate border.

Polling had warned the Liberals could be headed for a wipeout, with the party placing well behind in a range of key seats, including Harvey’s own.

Nevertheless, some within the Labor Party believed the Opposition was better off with Harvey in charge than without.

“We really thought they were going to stick with her,” one Labor strategist said.

But some key Liberals had been resigned for months that the best they could hope for was holding their miniscule ground, while admitting there was serious danger of things getting much worse.

The new leader will not have much time to turn the ship around — but from the position they find themselves in now, simply saving the furniture may be seen as a decent result by some Liberals.



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