Liberals 'giving up' in WA election race

Opposition Leader Zak Kirkup has conceded the Liberals are heading for defeat at the state election.
Opposition Leader Zak Kirkup has conceded the Liberals are heading for defeat at the state election.

Western Australia's premier has questioned why anyone would vote for the Liberals when the opposition leader is already conceding defeat.

Zak Kirkup's extraordinary admission that the Liberals cannot win the March 13 election dominated Thursday night's leaders debate.

In what was a relatively tame affair, Premier Mark McGowan used the Seven Network broadcast to accuse Mr Kirkup of giving up and failing to earn the respect of voters.

"If the Liberal Party don't believe in themselves, why should anyone else?," he said.

"If they're going to give in before election day, why should anyone support them?"

With polls predicting the Liberals could be reduced to a handful of seats, Mr Kirkup is warning that a Labor landslide would pose a threat to democracy.

He is seeking to reframe the election as the only chance for voters to ensure there are checks and balances on the McGowan government.

Having held the leadership for just three months, the 34-year-old first-term MP said it was time to "throw out the old political playbook".

"I'm never going to stop fighting but the reality is that this election is different now," Mr Kirkup said.

"We need a strong Liberal opposition fighting hard on behalf of all West Australians to make sure that when Labor make mistakes or go too far, we're there to hold them to account."

Mr McGowan said he had never considered conceding defeat when polls accurately predicted Labor was heading for defeat at the 2013 election.

"I fought every single day to earn the respect and trust of the people of Western Australia," he said.

A recent Newspoll published by The Weekend Australian showed Labor leading 68 to 32 per cent on a two-party preferred basis.

Such a result on March 13 would wipe out a swathe of Liberal MPs and likely result in Mr Kirkup becoming the first major WA party leader in almost 90 years to lose their seat.

He holds the seat of Dawesville, an hour south of Perth, by just 0.8 per cent, making it the second-most marginal Liberal electorate.

The Liberals are defending just 13 lower house seats and nine upper house seats, having lost in a landslide at the 2017 poll.

Mr McGowan has enjoyed record personal approval ratings on the back of his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He brushed off questions in Thursday's debate about his government's record on transparency and ambulance ramping and again refused to reveal who will replace the retiring Ben Wyatt as the state's treasurer.

Asked whether the coronavirus vaccine rollout would spell an end to border closures, Mr McGowan said he would redeploy them if needed.

Mr Kirkup has accused the government of taking a small-target strategy to the election and failing to produce any big ideas.

Asked to identify a signature policy heading into the election, Mr McGowan surprisingly identified a plan to locally manufacture iron ore railcars.

Mr McGowan has consistently downplayed polls highlighting Labor's dominance in WA and his own personal popularity.

But the parlous situation facing the Liberals has been underscored by the premier campaigning in safe blue seats such as the affluent southern Perth electorate of Bateman.

Betting agency Sportsbet has already announced it will pay out early on Labor winning re-election.

Early voting is underway with more than one million West Australians expected to cast their ballots before polling day.

Australian Associated Press