By Craig Ellis
When three weeks out from polling day the Liberal Opposition leader threw in the towel announcing it was impossible for him to win, it was obvious this would be an election like no other. But the big news from the election was the success of the Legalise Cannabis WA Party (LCWA), formed only weeks before the election, which has won not one, but two seats in the Legislative Council.
As predicted the Labor government was returned in a landslide, support for One Nation totally collapsed and the Liberal opposition was decimated, reduced to only two members in the Legislative Assembly. Early polling was indicating a huge swing to Labor following the trend of voters supporting competent pandemic management. Annastacia Palaszczuk was similarly rewarded in Queensland although the result in WA surprised even the most seasoned pundits.
Dr Brian Walker, an authorised medical cannabis prescriber, and naturopath Sophia Moermond, were elected for the upper house regions of Eastern Metro and South West respectively. (Members of the WA Legislative Council are elected from six regions, each returning six members). The South West region was particularly targeted by LCWA. It covers some of the most spectacular locations in the state including Margaret River with its wonderful mix of surfing and hippy culture. It is also home to most of the WA hemp industry.
As the results rolled in on election night it was obvious that the vote for minor parties was well down. The Shooters and Liberal Democrats both lost their seats and One Nation, which had won three seats in 2017, was wiped out.
On first preference votes LCWA largely outperformed every other minor party. In East Metro it came fourth in a field of twenty and in the South West it came fifth.
The complicated system of electing the Legislative Council meant that final results were not known for weeks after the election. When all preferences were calculated Brian Walker beat Labor to win his seat in East Metro and in the South West it came down to a contest between LCWA, Labor and the Nationals.
Fremantle Mayor Brad Pettitt won a seat for the Greens but unfortunately its WA leader Alison Xamon lost her North Metro seat with all six positions in that region going to the major parties. The Greens were philosophical about the success of the Legalise Cannabis Party with one spokesperson pointing out “..having a progressive party in there, rather than Labor, and definitely better than having another from the right side of politics, is a good thing.”
Having a strong progressive voice will be more important than ever given that Labor now commands a majority in both houses. Legalise Cannabis and the Greens will need to work together to hold what is widely regarded as the most conservative state Labor government to account.
On the issue of drug law reform WA Labor performs badly. Back in 2004 the then Labor Premier Geoff Gallup decriminalised cannabis possession. This was repealed when the Liberals came to power and Labor did nothing in the last parliament to reinstate the policy. Dr Gallop has since gone on to be a leading voice for drug law reform.
During the campaign McGowan floated the idea of maintaining a hard border after the pandemic. He argued it was desirable to stem the flow of drugs from the eastern states despite lacking any evidence to support the proposition. The concept was quickly dropped after a public backlash.
The success of the Legalise Cannabis Party is an added reminder to Labor that a “hard-on-drugs” policy is wrong. The next state election is in 2025. McGowan has four years to mull it over.