Scott Morrison has promised to maintain WA’s GST revenue share, backed the mining sector and talked up the economy in a return that hit familiar notes as the Liberals look to repair their damaged brand here in the west.
It’s the PM’s first visit to WA in 18 months, an absence he attributed to factors beyond his control including the COVID-19 pandemic.
Plenty has happened since Mr Morrison’s last visit, including a shellacking of the WA Liberals at last month’s state election.
The unprecedented popularity of Premier Mark McGowan and his Labor government has reduced the Liberals to just two lower house MPs.
WA’s federal Liberals haven’t fared much better with senior ministers Christian Porter and Linda Reynolds demoted in a cabinet reshuffle last month.
Mr Morrison on Wednesday visited a BHP mining training site to talk up his government’s investment in apprenticeships before addressing business leaders in Perth at a function overlooking Kings Park.
The PM was greeted warmly at the lunch, which sold out within 24 hours of tickets going on sale.
It was a different story outside where a group of about 40 protesters clashed with police and railed against the government’s environmental record and treatment of women.
Seeking to neutralise another potentially damaging issue, Mr Morrison gave an iron-clad promise that a deal bolstering WA’s share of GST revenue would not be unravelled.
“The one person you can trust anymore with this deal is the person who actually brought it about and that is me,” he told reporters.
“It was a wrong that needed to be righted in WA and we were pleased as a government to take that initiative, to argue the case and get it done.”
WA looms as a key battleground at the next federal election due by September next year.
Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has visited WA twice in recent months as Labor look to win back ground in the typically Liberal-voting state.
Whether voters continue to distinguish between state and federal issues – as Mr Morrison predicted would be the case – could be complicated by the pandemic, and in particular the extraordinary popularity of the Labor premier.
The prime minister highlighted his government’s support for the resources industry, trade deals and stimulus efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“All of these things have been very important for Western Australia and they’ve been delivered, and I trust Western Australians’ judgment,” he said.
“They have rewarded the strong leadership of Premier McGowan and my government has provided strong leadership for WA as well.”