In a surprising turn of events, Mark McGowan, one of the most successful political leaders in Australian history, resigned this week as the Premier of Western Australia. McGowan, who had held the position for six years, cited exhaustion and a lack of energy to effectively continue in the role.
Having been in Parliament since 1996, McGowan’s political career spans over two decades. During his time as premier, he successfully implemented a progressive agenda in a state not traditionally known for its progressiveness. Despite facing criticisms of being too reliant on the mining industry and favouring media proprietors, McGowan enjoyed high approval ratings and managed the state’s finances competently.
Under McGowan’s leadership, Western Australia navigated the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic successfully. His management of the crisis earned him widespread praise, and this was followed up with the Labor Party secured a resounding victory in the 2021 election, winning 53 of the 59 lower House seats. With the control of the upper house as well, the Labor Party seems set for at least two more terms in office.
Resigning on his own terms, McGowan avoided the pitfalls that often befall long-term political leaders. The toll of the job, the constant decision-making, media pressure, and responsibilities took a personal toll on him. Recognising his limitations, he decided it was the right time to step away from the role he loved.
McGowan’s resignation is unique in the sense that he chose to leave at a time of his own choosing, rather than facing an election loss, a leadership challenge, or a scandal. The legacy McGowan leaves behind is a testament to his competence, affability, and successful governance.
While some predict a drop in support for the Labor Party following McGowan’s resignation, history has shown that state leadership transitions can have mixed outcomes. Previous resignations of successful leaders in states such as Victoria, Queensland, New South Wales, and Tasmania have resulted in varying degrees of political challenges for their respective parties.
The impact of McGowan’s departure on federal politics in Western Australia remains uncertain. While his popularity undoubtedly influenced the federal Labor Party’s success in the 2022 federal election, it is unclear how a change in state leadership will affect future federal outcomes. Nevertheless, McGowan’s legacy as a highly successful premier of Western Australia is expected to endure and, as time passes, a clearer assessment of this legacy will emerge.
While his critics point to certain issues like the state’s reliance on the mining industry, ongoing challenges in the hospital system, and several major incidents in the Banksia Hill juvenile detention centre, his accomplishments in managing the pandemic, overseeing the state’s finances, and implementing progressive policies are noteworthy. With a high approval rating and significant electoral success, McGowan is likely to be remembered as one of the great premiers of Western Australia.
The resignation of a leader of McGowan’s stature creates a void that will need to be filled. The new premier, Roger Cook, may face challenges in replicating the popularity and cut-through that McGowan achieved. However, with the support and groundwork laid by his predecessor, the Labor Party in Western Australia will still have a solid chance of success at the next state election, due in 2025.
As Western Australia bids farewell to Mark McGowan, his resignation marks the end of an era characterised by successful governance, progressive policies, and a strong mandate from the electorate. While the future holds uncertainties, McGowan’s contribution to the state will be remembered, and his departure opens up new opportunities for the state’s political landscape.