After five hard years slogging away as opposition leader, Mark McGowan swept to power at the March state election, ending Colin Barnett’s more than eight-year reign as Premier.
Despite his new Government barely making a dent on debt and deficit since its election victory, Mr McGowan insisted his team would start to turn the State’s dire finances around by the next election.
Sitting down for a wide-ranging interview with the ABC’s Jessica Strutt, he also opened up about life at home and how it helped keep him grounded.
Fixing the debt
Strutt: Premier, you are axing public servant positions, you broke a key election promise not to have new taxes on West Australians and you have barely made a dent on debt and deficit. How are you going to fix the books?
McGowan: It is a long term process, it will take some years, in fact it will take many years. We basically inherited debt climbing to $42 billion, we have lost $5 billion in revenue since then… it is a long term process. There are no easy answers but at least people can have faith under us that we are getting on with the job of getting the finances back on track and making sure we are focusing the economy on job creation.
Strutt: Can you keep pointing the finger of blame back at the previous government though? If it comes to you having been in office for three-and-a-half years, and you are facing the prospect of the next election, you are going to need a fix aren’t you, you will need to show that you have actually made a dent in the debt and deficit?
McGowan: The forward estimates show that by 2020/21 debt will have peaked, and we expect it will be coming down and we will have the state back to surplus, so we are very keen to achieve that in that year.
Wooing the Upper House
Strutt: How frustrating is it to be elected in a landslide victory and yet have an Upper House that appears to be wanting to frustrate many of your measures?
McGowan: I just say to the Upper House that we did get a mandate to govern, and they need to act in the interests of the people of the state and I think West Australians do not want to see a Senate-style arrangement in the Upper House in our state, they want to see an Upper House that is constructive, that works with Government to get outcomes.
Strutt: You must be worried though going forward, given the things that they have already blocked and kicked out, including the gold royalty, it is not looking good in terms of a working relationship with the Upper House is it?
McGowan: The Liberals and Nationals are wreckers, they wrecked the state’s finances when they were in government, they are trying to keep on wrecking the state’s finances from Opposition and I just say to them they will be held to account at the next state election and if they think being wreckers and disrupters and negative all the time endears them to the people of Western Australia I think they have got that wrong.
Strutt: Just on a more personal level, does it ever feel surreal waking up and being the Premier? I mean you had five long hard years as Opposition Leader so is it still a surreal feeling sometimes?
McGowan: I wake up in the morning, I let the dog in. I go and kiss my daughter, she is the first one up, give her a kiss, and then I do what everyone else does. I clean my teeth. I have a shave, I make some cereal, it is just like everyone else. I don’t feel special, I just feel like I was before and it is often quite strange to walk into a room and everyone stops and looks at you. It is a funny thing. But I have been given a great honour and I need to understand that and treat it with the respect it deserves and do the best job I can while I have got this position.
Strutt: Do you think that basic family life that you are talking about is what you hope will keep you grounded in the course of your career, because you sometimes see leaders become completely out of touch with reality. So is that normal day to day life what you see as grounding you in the position?
McGowan: When you have a daughter who climbs all over your shoulders at any given moment and two boys who are likely to tackle or punch you at any given moment it keeps you pretty grounded. I am lucky to have a very straightforward great family, just like many people in the community and that keeps me very much in touch with the vast majority of West Australians.
Work life balance
Strutt: You are a young Premier, you have got a young family, is it hard striking that balance between the demands of being Premier, especially with the modern 24-hour news cycle?
McGowan: I had been opposition leader five years and two months before this and the hours are not that different, Premier to Opposition Leader. You are away a lot, you have a lot of work commitments, the phone is always ringing, so it is not that different to what has occurred for the last five years. What is different is there is a lot more reading and a lot more actual decision making, as opposed to talking about what you would do. But my family has been wonderful, my children are fantastic, my wife has been just a fantastic support and I am a very lucky person.
Strutt: The last people you would want to bear the cost of your premiership would arguably be your family and children and yet politics, particularly being Premier, demands you are away so many evenings, do you ever get a sense that you might later have regrets or guilt about that?
McGowan: I may well do, and as they say no one lays on their deathbed wishing they had spent more time in the office, so spending time with the kids when I can is something I try to do.
Strutt: What do you envisage as the key priorities for your Government in 2018?
McGowan: Keep on having stable, responsible and progressive government in Western Australia. Making sure we are focussed on creating jobs and opportunities and diversifying the state’s economy. Seeking a better share out of the Commonwealth, whether it is infrastructure funding and/or a better GST share, and delivering on our election commitments.