West Australians on the afternoon of Sunday 31 January were preparing for Monday’s start of the school year when Premier Mark McGowan called an emergency media conference to announce the toughest lock-down rules the state has known.
Life normally returns to the city of Perth on the first day of school after the long summer break but on Monday 1 February the freeways and streets were empty, save for long queues of pedestrians waiting for Covid-19 tests.
The Government imposed the five-day lock-down from Sunday evening until Friday evening of 5 February for the regions of Perth, Peel and the South West. Some 80 per cent of West Australians live these areas in our heavily centralised Western third of the continent. For the first time in the West, the wearing of face masks is compulsory. An hour a day of outdoor exercise is permitted, within five kilometres of the home.
To add to the state’s problems, Perth is experiencing a heat wave, and dangerous bushfires in the hills to the east have destroyed several houses and are threatening a number of suburbs. People under Covid lock-downs are having to evacuate their homes.
The draconian measures went into operation immediately and it appears the public is accepting the restrictions in good grace. A friend who drove to a petrol station stepped out of his car and immediately heard a voice on a loudspeaker instructing him to get back in the vehicle because he was not wearing a mask. My Anne does voluntary work in an essential service and wore a mask for the day, and discovered it fogged up her glasses – a side effect I had not thought of.
The quarantine hotel security guard who tested positive and sparked this emergency action was using his mobile phone app and West Australians now know all the shopping centres and so on that he visited. The app is a bit complicated for me but I gather it is known as track and trace and the process appears to be working.
Amid such significant happenings it is churlish to mention party politics but one of the best moves by the WA Labor Government after its election triumph in 2017 was to set in stone the date of the next election, thereby forestalling one of the favourite items of media speculation about early elections. Saturday 13 March is approaching fast.
Last week we were just starting to hear policy proposals from the Opposition and the usual response from a sitting government about costings. A week’s absence from this type of debate will not send West Australians into sorrow but we can’t escape it much longer. The kids who have dodged school for a week are not complaining but they, too, will eventually have to face the classroom. Such is life.
In their most recent leadership change Western Australia’s Parliamentary Liberals put all their eggs in the youth basket. Opposition Leader Zak Kirkup won the job because he has impressed colleagues and opponents in his parliamentary performance. However, Parliament is not sitting during the campaign and he is up against a popular Premier who is a daily fixture in the media with his statements on the pandemic.
If the Liberals regret taking away the leadership from Mike Nahan they are not talking about it. Nahan took over unopposed from Colin Barnett after the Coalition’s loss in 2017. His age and gravitas now appear attractive but the Liberals passed on the leadership to Liza Harvey, then to Kirkup in November.
Not only is Kirkup young but he looks young — slender and sporting the beard and tight-fitting bum-freezer jackets that are all the go in male fashion. While looking for an issue to find his way into the news pages, the new leader found less desirable publicity dealing with the religious right inroads made into some Liberal branches. The Old Testament sex stuff doesn’t go down well with younger voters and quite a few older folks think governments have more important problems to deal with. Kirkup appears to have kept this under control but people who have God on their side can be difficult.
Mark McGowan lost the 2013 election badly but was not challenged and Labor won an unprecedented majority in 2017. The Liberals are odds-on to lose again but I expect them to stick with Zak Kirkup because youth is a good long-term investment. With such a consensus medical problem dominating the scene we may find local issues are important and candidates will have to wear out shoe-leather to win votes.
I’m a member of the ALP and I will have more to say on individual electorates but right now where I am in the East Pilbara we have received 150mm of beautiful rain in 40 hours and I’m hoping nobody tries to drive out to the bitumen because they will get bogged to the windscreen.