WA Politics in 2018

It’s been a long time since we saw a year in WA politics as momentous as 2017.

Colin Barnett — one of the State’s longest-tenured premiers — saw his reign end in an electoral annihilation, scores of WA’s highest-profile politicians were turfed out by voters and the new Labor Government wrapped up the year dealing with a memorable scandal involving rookie MP Barry Urban.

It’s hard to imagine how 2018 could possibly top what we have seen in the past 12 months.

But with leadership chatter in Liberal ranks, the prospect of a by-election or two and big challenges facing the McGowan Government, it’s hard to see things slowing down in WA politics.

So what should you be watching out for in 2018?

What now for Barry Urban?

After a disastrous first year in Parliament, the Darling Range MP is now being investigated by a powerful committee after concerns were raised about the veracity of his qualifications and police service medals he has worn in public.

Mr Urban has only briefly shown his face at Parliament since the scandal broke and the statement he provided did little to help the embattled MP.

No one really knows if Mr Urban will return to Parliament in the new year but, even if he attempts to stick it out, the Procedure and Privileges Committee investigation will hand down its findings in February.

That committee has the power to recommend sanctions as severe as suspension or expulsion.

Back to the polls (for some)?

One way or another, plenty of people in politics see a 2018 by-election in Mr Urban’s seat as a real possibility.

While Labor obviously took that seat in 2017, it is a traditionally-Liberal electorate and the Opposition would definitely fancy its chances of winning it back.

But one group of voters who definitely will be headed back to the polls is the electors of Cottesloe.

Colin Barnett’s retirement means a by-election will be held there around March, a race in which the Liberals will start as overwhelming favourites.

What about the Liberal leadership?

After the Liberals’ annihilation in March, Mike Nahan took on a job nobody else wanted and has since given the party a steady pair of hands.

While his Opposition has struggled to land major blows on the Government, Dr Nahan has insisted throughout his tenure that he can and will lead the Liberals to the 2021 election.

Mike Nahan stands with shadow ministers Sean L'Estrange, Liza Harvey, Dean Nalder.

Plenty of his colleagues do not share that view and many believe a leadership change is inevitable, with Sean L’Estrange a probable frontrunner. Dean Nalder and Liza Harvey are also contenders.

At this stage, a spill does not appear to be on the immediate horizon and it is far from clear that any challenger would have the numbers — but leadership chatter does look likely to continue to gather steam in 2018.

Will there be more pain for the public?

West Australians are now paying significantly more for power and other utilities because of decisions made by the McGowan Government this year.

There could be much more pain to come, with big power price hikes forecast in the State budget, but we will not find out for sure until May.

The Government will also be managing the backlash to contentious decisions, especially its recent cuts to the education budget, which have already caused real anger in the bush.

Will the budget get back on track?

Labor made “responsible financial management” a key election pledge, promising to bring the budget back to surplus and pay down debt over time.

The next budget will give us a clearer indication on how realistic that actually is, with the Government currently forecasting being back in the black by 2021.

But that is dependent on plenty of things going right and is far from guaranteed.

Will the Perth Children’s Hospital finally open?

A wide shot of the outside of the new Perth Children's Hospital.

Remember that flashy new hospital in Nedlands that was supposed to open back in 2015, but has been plagued by problems and defects ever since?

Well, the Government now believes it will open in May 2018 — but plenty of targets have been set and missed over what has become years of delay.

The biggest stumbling block remains lead contamination in the hospital’s drinking water, which still is not fixed, and no one can be certain about the opening until that issue is resolved.

Any chance of a reshuffle?

Mark McGowan’s cabinet has avoided serious scandal so far, but there are plenty of ambitious people on Labor’s large backbench who would be hoping a vacancy or two in the ministry opens up at some point in 2018.

First-term member Jessica Shaw, cabinet secretary Amber-Jade Sanderson and Armadale MP Tony Buti are all seen as strong contenders for any future ministerial openings, with the latter boosting his chances by teaming up with the right faction.

But any aspirants — and there are plenty — might be waiting awhile, a significant ministerial reshuffle still seen as some way off.

A mid-shot of Mark McGowan talking into microphones at a media conference outdoors.