WA opposition leader Mark McGowan is certain he will lead Labor to the next election and will not call on Stephen Smith to declare his intentions amid speculation MPs want the former federal minister at the helm.
After weeks of persistent rumours, a significant number of Labor MPs are said to be unhappy with Mr McGowan’s leadership and don’t believe he will win despite being ahead in the polls.
With a dramatic 10-seat swing needed to ensure victory at the 2017 election – exactly a year away – former state secretary John Halden has revealed he wants him replaced.
But Mr McGowan, who has been leader for four years, says Mr Halden is wrong and he has the support of the vast majority of his colleagues.
“I am absolutely 100 per cent sure I will lead WA Labor to the next election,” he told reporters on Friday.
“It is a big challenge to win but I’m confident that we can win.”
Mr McGowan said it was up to Mr Smith to rule a challenge in or out.
“I’ll let Stephen make his own judgments – you’ll have to ask him.”
Mr Smith, who is not an MP and would have to be parachuted in as former Queensland premier Campbell Newman was, has not returned calls about the speculation.
The issue is set to come to a head at a Labor caucus meeting on Monday.
Mr McGowan said West Australians did not want to see the disunity that plagued federal Labor during the Rudd and Gillard years, describing it as “the Canberra disease” of “chopping and changing”.
“I think they want stability, they want certainty, they want people in positions like mine to get on with the job,” he said.
Former federal opposition leader Kim Beazley threw his support behind Mr McGowan at a joint press conference but would not say whether Mr Smith had spoken to him about any challenge.
“If we’d had any discussion about state politics at all, I would not tell you because one of the joys of being a pensioner is I don’t have to anymore,” Mr Beazley said.
Leader of the opposition in the upper house Sue Ellery has also publicly backed Mr McGowan, saying she is unaware of anyone trying to oust him and it has been “a long time” since Mr Halden was in caucus.
“There’s no whispering in the corridors, there’s no phones running hot, there’s no fights in caucus,” she told 6PR radio.
Premier Colin Barnett said the state election would be close regardless.
“Stephen’s got a long career in federal politics but he’s not a member of parliament and I think that’s a very unusual and strange situation,” he told reporters.
Mr Barnett reiterated if the Liberals won the election, he would hand over the leadership towards the end of that term.