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Mark McGowan

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Mark McGowan
Mark McGowan headshot.jpg
McGowan in April 2014
30th Premier of Western Australia
Elections: 2013, 2017, 2021
Assumed office
17 March 2017
MonarchElizabeth II
GovernorKerry Sanderson
Kim Beazley
DeputyRoger Cook
Preceded byColin Barnett
Treasurer of Western Australia
Assumed office
18 March 2021
Preceded byBen Wyatt
Leader of the Labor Party in Western Australia
Assumed office
23 January 2012
DeputyRoger Cook
Preceded byEric Ripper
Leader of the Opposition in Western Australia
In office
23 January 2012 – 17 March 2017
PremierColin Barnett
DeputyRoger Cook
Preceded byEric Ripper
Succeeded byMike Nahan
Member of the Legislative Assembly
for Rockingham
Assumed office
14 December 1996
Preceded byMike Barnett
Minister for Public Sector Management
Assumed office
17 March 2017
Preceded byBill Marmion
Minister for Education and Training
In office
13 December 2006 – 23 September 2008
PremierAlan Carpenter
Preceded byLjiljanna Ravlich
Succeeded byLiz Constable
Minister for the Environment
In office
3 February 2006 – 13 December 2006
PremierAlan Carpenter
Preceded byJudy Edwards
Succeeded byTony McRae
Minister for Disability Services
In office
13 October 2005 – 2 March 2007
PremierGeoff Gallop
Alan Carpenter
Preceded byBob Kucera
Succeeded byMargaret Quirk
Minister for Tourism, Racing and Gaming
In office
10 March 2005 – 13 December 2006
PremierGeoff Gallop
Alan Carpenter
Preceded byNick Griffiths
Succeeded bySheila McHale
John Bowler
Minister for the Peel and South West
In office
10 March 2005 – 23 September 2008
PremierGeoff Gallop
Alan Carpenter
Preceded byNorm Marlborough
Succeeded byDavid Templeman
Personal details
Born (1967-07-13) 13 July 1967 (age 54)[1]
Newcastle, New South Wales
Political partyLabor
Sarah Miller
(m. 1996)
Residence(s)Rockingham, Western Australia
EducationCasino High School
Coffs Harbour High School
Alma materUniversity of Queensland
Military service
Allegiance Australia
Years of service1989–present
UnitHMAS Stirling
AwardsCommendation for Brave Conduct

Mark McGowan (born 13 July 1967) is an Australian politician, currently serving as the 30th premier of Western Australia since March 2017, and the leader of the Western Australian branch of the Labor Party since January 2012.

McGowan was born and raised in Newcastle, New South Wales. He attended the University of Queensland and worked as a legal officer for the Royal Australian Navy, serving at naval base HMAS Stirling, south of Perth. Settling in Western Australia, he was elected as a councillor for the City of Rockingham from 1994, and was later elected to the Western Australian Legislative Assembly at the 1996 election, representing the district of Rockingham. In 2001, he was made Parliamentary Secretary to Premier Geoff Gallop, and later served as a Cabinet Minister in both the Gallop and Carpenter Governments from 2005 to 2008.

McGowan was elected as Leader of the Labor Party in Western Australia following the resignation of Eric Ripper, and became Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Assembly. Although he led Labor to defeat at the 2013 election, he retained his position as leader, and embarked upon a "listening tour" of the state, pledging to restore Labor's credibility with voters. McGowan subsequently grew in popularity, and went on to lead Labor to a landslide victory at the 2017 election, winning the largest majority government in the state's history at the time. He was subsequently appointed the 30th Premier of Western Australia.[2]

Throughout 2020, McGowan led Western Australia's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, during which time he reached a record-breaking approval rating for an Australian premier of 91%. At the 2021 election, he led his party to an even larger majority, winning 53 out of 59 seats in the Legislative Assembly, the largest victory in terms of both vote share and proportion of lower house seats occupied in any Australian state or federal election since federation.[3]

Early life and naval career

McGowan was born into a family of Irish descent in Newcastle, New South Wales, and was educated at public schools in Casino and Coffs Harbour, before obtaining a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1987 and a Bachelor of Laws in 1989 from the University of Queensland. He joined the Australian Labor Party in 1984, stating that he was inspired by the leadership of Prime Minister Bob Hawke.[4] In 1989, he joined the Royal Australian Navy as a legal officer. He served at the naval base HMAS Stirling, reaching the rank of Lieutenant. In 1996, he was awarded a Commendation for Brave Conduct, for actions he took on service in 1995 for rescuing an unconscious driver from a burning car.[5]

Early political career

In 1994, after settling with his family in Western Australia, McGowan was elected to the City of Rockingham Council, and in 1995 was appointed Deputy Mayor. He was subsequently pre-selected to run for the Western Australian Legislative Assembly in the seat of Rockingham at the 1996 election, following the retirement of long-serving MP Mike Barnett.

At the 2001 election, Labor defeated the LiberalNational Government; new Premier Geoff Gallop chose to appoint McGowan as his Parliamentary Secretary.[6] McGowan was also responsible for chairing the state's ANZAC Committee, the group managing the Western Australia's 175th anniversary celebrations in 2004, and for chairing the Bali Memorial Steering Committee.[7] In January 2005, following the retirement of federal Labor Leader Mark Latham from politics, McGowan was criticised in some quarters for taking unapproved leave to travel to Sydney to lobby for Kim Beazley's return to the federal leadership; Gallop reprimanded McGowan and ordered him to return to Perth.[8]

Following Labor's win at the 2005 election, Gallop reshuffled his Ministry, and promoted McGowan to the role of Minister for Tourism, Racing and Gaming.[9] Later that year, following Gallop's retirement, McGowan was moved to the role of Minister for the Environment by new Premier Alan Carpenter. During his time in the Ministry, McGowan introduced major liquor reforms, including the introduction of small bars, created the Department of Environment and Conservation, and provided approval for the Gorgon Project.[10][11][12]

In December 2006, following the resignation of Ljiljanna Ravlich, Carpenter appointed McGowan to replace her as Minister for Education and Training. In this portfolio, McGowan oversaw the replacement of outcomes-based education with syllabus documents, re-established traditional forms of marking and reporting, and launched a renewed effort towards the attraction and retention of teachers.[13][14][15][16]

In April 2008, McGowan was criticised by some for referring to ex-Labor MP John D'Orazio as "the worst ethnic branch stacker in the history of Labor in Western Australia"; both McGowan and Premier Carpenter apologised for the remarks.[17] McGowan later apologised to anyone who took offence to the remark.[18] The issue returned to the media spotlight when it was revealed that McGowan had had some dealings over fundraising with the controversial politician Brian Burke during the 2005 election.[19]

Leader of the Opposition

McGowan addressing a rally in 2014

After Labor's defeat at the 2008 election, Alan Carpenter resigned as Leader of the Labor Party in Western Australia; McGowan was considered one of several contenders to replace him, but he chose not to run, instead supporting the eventual winner Eric Ripper, who was elected unopposed. McGowan did choose to contest the election for Deputy Leader, but lost to newcomer Roger Cook by 30 votes to 9.[20] Ripper appointed McGowan to the Shadow Ministry as Shadow Minister for State Development, Trade, Planning, Housing and Works, and was also appointed as Manager of Opposition Business in the Legislative Assembly.

On 17 January 2012, following declining performances in opinion polls, Eric Ripper announced that he would resign as Leader of the Opposition. At a caucus meeting on 23 January, McGowan was elected unopposed as Ripper's successor, becoming Leader of the Opposition.[21][22] Despite an initial improvement in Labor's standing in opinion polls, Labor ultimately suffered a 5.4 percent swing against it at the 2013 election, losing five seats. Despite this, McGowan was not blamed for the loss, and was unanimously confirmed as party leader by his colleagues.

After Labor's 2013 defeat, McGowan launched a "listening tour" of the state, pledging that he would enact policy reforms to address the reasons for Labor suffering two defeats in a row. Soon after this process, opinion polls began to show increasingly large swings of support away from the second-term Barnett Government. By 2015, McGowan had reached a comfortable lead in polls as preferred Premier of Western Australia, and retained this position until the following election.[23]

Premier of Western Australia

At the 2017 election, McGowan led the Labor Party to one of its most comprehensive victories at either the state or territory level since Federation.[24] Labor won 41 of the 59 seats available on 55.5 percent of the two-party vote, the largest majority government in Western Australian history. Labor also took 20 seats off the incumbent Liberal-WA National government on a swing of 12.8 percent, the worst defeat of a sitting government in Western Australian history. Seven members of Barnett's cabinet were defeated, including Nationals Leader Brendon Grylls.[25][26][27][28] His own margin in Rockingham swelled from an already comfortably safe 13.2 percent to 23.4 percent.

McGowan's win was built primarily on the strength of a dominating performance in Perth. Labor picked up a swing of 13.6 percent in Perth and took all but nine of the capital's 43 seats, accounting for almost all of its majority. According to Antony Green of ABC News, the 10-point swing Labor theoretically needed to win was not as daunting as it seemed on paper. Besides the one vote one value reforms in 2008 that allowed Perth to elect over 70 percent of the legislature, much of the Liberals' 2013 margin was built on inflated margins in Perth's outer suburbs.[26]

McGowan was sworn in by Governor Kerry Sanderson as the 30th Premier of Western Australia on 17 March 2017.[2][29] Early in his premiership, McGowan moved to limit the number of pathways for foreign workers to enter the state and re-committed to terminating the controversial Perth Freight Link highway project, which had proved extremely unpopular in large parts of the state.[30][31] McGowan also introduced unlimited fines and life imprisonment for people deemed to be trafficking methamphetamine,[32] and worked to expand Chinese investment in Western Australia.[33][34][35]

COVID-19 pandemic

Painted Dog Research approval polls[36]
Month Satisfied Disatisfied
June 2020 87% 5%
September 2020 91% 5%
February 2021 88% 7%
December 2021 77% 14%
February 2022 64% 25%

Throughout 2020 and 2021, McGowan led Western Australia's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He acted early to close the state's borders to the rest of the country on 5 April.[37] In July 2020, businessman Clive Palmer claimed that the closing of the borders was unconstitutional and launched a legal challenge in the Federal Court. The case was defeated, and in response McGowan labelled Palmer an "enemy of the state".[38][39] Shortly afterwards, McGowan's popularity in opinion polls dramatically increased, reaching 91% approval in September 2020, a record for any Australian premier.[36]

In January 2021, McGowan criticised the New South Wales Government's response and attitude towards the pandemic, contrasting it with that of his own Government's response.[40] In March 2021, he suggested that some internal Australian border controls could be continued after the pandemic, on the grounds that they had helped to keep illegal drugs out of Western Australia, but clarified later that he meant to suggest only an increased police presence at border checkpoints, rather than completely sealing the border.[41]

2021 election

In the lead up to the 2021 election, WA Labor raced out to a large lead in opinion polls, leading to speculation that the McGowan Government would be reelected with another record majority. Labor approached 70% in the two-party preferred polls, with McGowan maintaining a personal approval rating of 88%.[42] Opposition Leader Zak Kirkup took the unprecedented step of conceding the election more than a fortnight before it took place.[43] On 13 March 2021, WA Labor won the most comprehensive victory, in terms of vote share and percentage of seats controlled, at any level in Australia since Federation. Labor took 69.7 percent of the two-party vote and picked up a 13-seat swing, ultimately winning 53 out of 59 seats, including all but one in Perth. Labor even managed to defeat Kirkup in his own seat.[3] McGowan's own margin in Rockingham increased to 37.7 percent, making Rockingham the safest seat in the state.

Claiming victory, McGowan stated that the victory was "beyond humbling" and pledged that the Government would work to retain the support of the majority of Western Australians.[3]

Second term

McGowan announced his new cabinet on 18 March 2021. Among various changes, he opted to serve as his own treasurer, after Ben Wyatt, the previous one, retired at the 2021 election. The two other ministers viewed as possible candidates, Roger Cook and Rita Saffioti, had existing important roles that McGowan wanted them to continue with. Cook was health minister and thus had an important role in the state's COVID-19 response, and Saffioti was transport and planning minister, overseeing the government's signature Metronet project. Prior to 2001, WA premiers generally served as their own treasurers, but since then, the only premier to hold that position before McGowan was Colin Barnett briefly in 2010, 2012 and 2014.[44][45]

McGowan announced the formation of a panel to examine potential reform of the Western Australian Legislative Council voting system soon after the 2021 election, after denying he would implement reforms to the Legislative Council voting system several times during the election. The panel was led by former Governor of Western Australia Malcolm McCusker, and consisted of four electoral and constitutional law experts. McGowan and Electoral Affairs Minister John Quigley said the election of Wilson Tucker was a key reason for their change of mind.[46] In September 2021, McGowan announced the changes to be made to the voting system, including abolishing regions in the Legislative Council, and removing group voting tickets.[47] Also that month, he handed down the Western Australian state budget, which recorded a sizeable surplus of $5.6 billion.[48][49]

On 13 December 2021, McGowan announced that Western Australia would fully open its borders to COVID-19 vaccinated people from interstate and overseas on 5 February 2022.[50][51] In January 2022, McGowan changed his mind on the plan for Western Australia to fully open its borders, saying that the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is more contagious than previous variants.[52] A February opinion poll showed that his approval rating had decreased to 64%, the lowest during the pandemic, but still quite high.[36][53] On 18 February, McGowan announced the border would reopen on 3 March for people from outside Australia and triple vaccinated people from interstate.[54]

Political views

McGowan has described his political strategy as "centrist", saying "you have got to appeal to everyone". He credited that strategy as one of the reasons for his 2021 landslide election.[55]

McGowan is one of six Labor MPs in the current state parliament that is not factionally aligned as of 2021.[56]

Personal life

Since 1996, McGowan has been married to Sarah Miller, with whom he has three children.[57]


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External links

Western Australian Legislative Assembly
Preceded by Member for Rockingham
Political offices
Preceded by Leader of the Opposition
Succeeded by
Preceded by Premier of Western Australia
Preceded by Treasurer of Western Australia
Party political offices
Preceded by Leader of the Labor Party in Western Australia