Time will tell if former prime minister John Howard’s visit to Perth helps Colin Barnett to an extraordinary election victory or amounts to a farewell from one enduring political figure to another.
Australia’s second-longest serving PM and the WA Premier, who will turn 78 and 67 respectively this year, strolled through central Perth’s Murray St mall and greeted mostly friendly strangers on Friday morning.
Labor leader Mark McGowan had similarly used the political star power of former WA Premier Geoff Gallop on Thursday, with the pair catching a train to the city from the former’s home in Rockingham.
Despite most polls pointing to a Labor win on March 11, Mr Howard disagrees.
“I believe the government will be returned because in the end West Australians will sensibly decide it is better to hang on to the government that’s done stuff and protected Western Australia than take a risk on somebody who’s inexperienced,” he told reporters.
Sport including the prospect of this year’s Ashes cricket being played at Perth’s new stadium dominated the conversation as the pair went in search of a coffee and before journalists began asking Mr Howard about the election.
“The great thing about Colin is he’s done things. The state premier is meant to look after schools and the education system of Western Australia has been more innovative with government schools than any other state with the introduction of what some people call charter schools,” he said.
“Western Australia was carrying the country for a number of years and let’s face it, if it hadn’t been for the resources boom in Western Australia a few years ago the whole nation would have been in trouble.
“I know the West Australian economy is not quite as robust as it was but that’s not the fault of the state government, it is the natural swings and roundabouts of a resource-based economy and there are signs to me that the WA economy is coming back.”
The pair attracted one or two less-than-pleasant greetings with a passer-by shouting “shame” at Mr Howard and another telling Mr Barnett he was wasting money on projects like the new stadium while hospitals and schools were suffering.
Mr Barnett pointed out that a lot of people relatively new to Australia but who remembered Mr Howard as PM were among those to warmly greet him, including a Malaysian man and Ghanaian man.
When the rest of the country turned against him for Kevin Rudd in 2007, there was actually a swing towards the coalition in WA where it gained seats.
Speaking of Mr Rudd, the former PM criticised his predecessor on Friday for giving his blessing to the WA Liberals’ preferences deal with Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.
“Utter disgrace from John Howard. He defended Hanson in 1996. Now once again.Pushing the Liberals further to the right,” he tweeted.