Western Australian 2021 election: a quick guide

17 June 2021

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Cathy Madden
Politics and Public Administration Section


This Quick Guide provides a brief overview of the 2021 Western Australian (WA) Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council election results and the new ministry appointed after the election. It also includes background information on the electoral system in Western Australia, a summary of the 2021 election results, and details of by-elections and changes in party representation during the 40th Parliament.

The Western Australian election, held on 13 March 2021, is the second state election to be held during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is the fourth election held by a state or territory during this period and it is the fourth time the incumbent government has been returned.

The Australian Labor Party (ALP) had a resounding victory at the election winning 53 of the 59 Legislative Assembly (lower house) seats, gaining 23 more seats than required to govern as a majority government. The ALP gained 13 seats overall: eleven from the Liberal Party and two from the Nationals. The Liberal Party was decimated, winning only two seats in the Assembly, while the Nationals won four.

The McGowan government became the first Labor government in the state’s history to win a majority in the upper house, winning 23 seats. The Legislative Council was notable also for the election of candidates from two micro parties who received very small numbers of direct votes: one candidate received only 98 first preference votes in total.


The Western Australian Parliament and electoral system

Western Australia has a bicameral parliament consisting of the Legislative Assembly (lower house) and the Legislative Council (upper house). Elections for the Western Australian Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council are regulated by the Electoral Act 1907 (WA) and administered by the Western Australian Electoral Commission (WAEC).

Since 2011 the Parliament has had a fixed election date: under section 71 of the Electoral Act 1907 State General Elections for both houses of parliament are held on the second Saturday in March every four years.

The Legislative Assembly comprises representatives from 59 single member electoral districts, elected by full preferential voting. The Legislative Council comprises 36 representatives: six elected from each of six regions on a proportional representation basis.

Group voting tickets are still used to direct preferences on the WA Legislative Council ballot paper. Only Victoria and Western Australia have retained group voting tickets for upper house elections: the practice has been abolished for New South Wales, South Australia and Commonwealth upper house elections.

Malapportionment has been an element of the proportional representation system for the Legislative Council since it was introduced in 1989. When the zonal system was introduced in 1989, elector weighting was 2.80-to-1 in favour of non-metropolitan voters in Legislative Council elections. That has drifted upwards to be 3.07-to-1 at the 2021 election.[1] This means that less than one quarter of all voters get to choose half the members of the upper house.

Electoral boundaries

The Electoral Act requires that Western Australia’s State electoral boundaries be reviewed once in the life of each Parliament.

The final boundaries stemming from the 2019 distribution were gazetted on 27 November 2019. They applied at the March 2021 State general election.

No district changed party status based on the new electoral boundaries, though the seats of Hillarys and Joondalup became much more marginal on their new boundaries. There was only one change of seat name with Girrawheen re-named Landsdale.

Election analyst Antony Green calculated that:

Taking account of the new boundaries, and the Liberal victory at the Darling Range by-election, a change of government requires the Liberal and National Parties to take 11 seats from the Labor Party. On the new electoral pendulum, this corresponds to a uniform swing of 7.9%.[2]

Result of the 2017 election

The previous election was held on 11 March 2017. Parliament was prorogued, and the Legislative Assembly dissolved, by the Governor on 30 January 2017. The writs were issued on 1 February for an election on Saturday 11 March. Sixteen parties contested the election compared to the seven which ran in 2013.

The Labor Party won 41 seats, an increase of 20 seats from the 2013 election, while the Liberals won 13 seats (down from 31 seats) and the Nationals won five seats (a loss of two seats). The Liberals and Nationals in Western Australia worked as an Alliance Government between 2008 and 2017 but not as a formal coalition, allowing the parties to disagree on some policy positions.[3]

In the Legislative Council, Labor won an additional three seats for a total of 14, the Liberals polled 26.7 per cent of the primary vote and won just nine seats, a reduction of eight, while the Nationals lost one seat for a total of four.

The estimated two-party preferred vote was ALP 55.5 per cent to Liberal/Nationals 44.5 per cent, (compared to ALP 43.8 per cent, Liberal/Nationals 57.2 per cent in 2013). This was a swing of 12.8 per cent to Labor.[4]

There were 29 women (30.5 per cent) at the commencement of the 40th Parliament: 18 in the Assembly and 11 in the Council.[5] From June 2018 there were 19 women in the Assembly with the election of Alyssa Kathleen Hayden (LP, Darling Range).

Mr McGowan’s ministry of 17 was sworn in on 17 March 2017. Five of the ministers were women.[6]

On 21 March 2017 Mike Nahan (Riverton) was elected leader of the Liberal Party after Colin Barnett (Cottesloe) stood down as leader.

West Australia’s 40th Parliament was officially opened on 11 May 2017.

On 7 December 2020, the Governor prorogued the two Houses of the Parliament of Western Australia.

The Governor dissolved the Legislative Assembly on and from 29 January 2021 with the result that the 40th Parliament came to an end. 

COVID-19 and the election

The 2021 State General Election was conducted differently from previous elections due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The WA Electoral Commission issued a COVID Safe plan working closely with the recommendations of the WA Department of Health.

The conduct of the poll proceeded smoothly. The WAEC put a range of protection measures in place such as encouraging early voting, postal voting, election day voting and telephone voting for eligible voters, in addition to asking voters to download the SafeWA app to register their attendance at an Early Voting Centre or Polling Place on election day.

Electoral law reform

In June 2020 the McGowan Government introduced the Electoral Amendment Bill 2020 to improve disclosure laws around political donations, introduce expenditure caps for election campaigns and ban all foreign donations. The bill lapsed at the end of the 40th Parliament due to lack of support in the Legislative Council.

Leadership and other party changes

Liza Harvey (Scarborough) became Leader of the Opposition after being elected unopposed to replace Mike Nahan as state Liberal leader on 13 June 2019.

In late November 2020 Liza Harvey stood down as leader of the Liberal Party and on 24 November was replaced by Zac Kirkup,(Dawesville) the youngest WA Liberal leader at 33 years of age.


The Cottesloe by-election was held on 17 March 2018 resulting from the retirement of former Premier Colin Barnett (LP) who announced his retirement in December 2017 and finished his term on 30 January 2018. He was replaced by the Liberal candidate, David Honey.

The Darling Range by-election was held on 23 June 2018. Labor had won Darling Range for the first time at the 2017 election with a 5.8 per cent swing. Labor turned Independent Barry Urban resigned from Parliament after it was revealed he had lied about his employment and educational background.[7] The seat was regained by the Liberal party candidate, Alyssa Hayden.

Other changes

Geraldton MP Ian Blayney resigned from the Liberal Party on 24 July 2019. He briefly sat as an Independent before joining the National Party from 17 August 2019.

The election

The writ for the election of the 59 members of the Legislative Assembly was issued with the following dates:

  • Wednesday 3 February 2021, the day of the issue of the writ
  • Thursday, 11 February 2021, electoral rolls close
  • Thursday, 11 February 2021, nomination of candidates for parties close
  • Friday, 12 February 2021, nominations for individual candidates close
  • Monday, 22 February 2021, postal voting commences
  • Wednesday, 24 February 2021, Early Voting centres open
  • Saturday, 13 March 2021, polling day, and
  • Tuesday, 4 May 2021, the last possible date for return of the Writ to the Governor.

At the close of nominations there were nineteen parties registered to contest the March election and a total of 788 candidates.

A record 463 candidates nominated for the 2021 Legislative Assembly elections. The ALP, Liberals, Greens and No Mandatory Vaccinations parties each fielded 59 candidates; the WAxit Party fielded 48 candidates, PHON 40 candidates; Australian Christians 29 candidates and Liberal Democrats 24 candidates. One of the bigger cohorts was made up of independent or unaffiliated candidates (17) in addition to the Western Australia Party’s 17 candidates, the Nationals’ 16 candidates and the Shooters and Fishers’ 15 candidates. The remainder of the candidates were from a variety of minor parties including Legalise Cannabis WA and Sustainable Australia.

Three hundred and twenty-five candidates nominated for the Legislative Council, an increase of 23 from the 2017 election. By region, there were 20 groups in East Metropolitan, 23 in North Metropolitan, 26 in South Metropolitan, 25 in Agricultural, 21 in Mining and Pastoral and 23 in South West.

There were 1,716,732 electors as at 21 February 2021.


An August 2018 Galaxy poll showed state Labor had a 54 to 46 lead, a 1.5 per cent swing to the Liberals/Nationals since the March 2017 state election. Primary votes were 40 per cent Labor, 32 per cent Liberal, 6 per cent National, 11 per cent Greens and 5 per cent One Nation.

An Utting Research poll of five Western Australian marginal seats showed an average swing to Labor of 16 per cent. In Liberal leader Liza Harvey’s Scarborough seat, the result was 66 to 34 per cent to Labor.

Mr McGowan has had massive support for his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, including closing the borders. According to an April 2020 Newspoll, the WA Premier was the most popular leader in the country—earning approval from 89 per cent of the West Australian public. The same poll indicated that when it came to direct handling of the COVID-19 pandemic 94 per cent believed Mr McGowan had handled the crisis well.

An ABC survey delivered a similar result, with 91 per cent of people approving Mr McGowan's handling of coronavirus—again the best result in the country.

A Newspoll conducted between 12 and 18 February 2021 estimated that Labor held a 68 to 32 per cent two-party preferred lead. On primary votes Labor was on 59 per cent and Liberals on 23 per cent. The poll suggested a 12.5 per cent swing to Labor, which would result in the Liberal Party being reduced to just two Lower House seats if the swing was replicated across all electorates.

The Newspoll conducted on the eve of the election had Labor up 66 to 34 per cent over the Liberals on a two-party preferred basis (which underestimated the actual two party preferred result of just under 70 per cent). The satisfaction rate for McGowan’s performance was at 88 per cent.


In an unusual move the Opposition leader conceded the Liberal Party could not win the election on 25 February, two weeks before the election.

Labor achieved a second term with an increased majority, winning 53 seats in the Legislative Assembly (11 more than at the 2017 election) and securing a 59.9 per cent first preference vote, a 17.7 per cent positive swing. Women won 27 of Labor’s 53 seats (51 per cent).

The Liberal Party was reduced to two seats in the lower house. Opposition leader Zac Kirkup lost his seat of Dawesville at the election, the first time an opposition leader in WA has lost their seat at an election; former opposition leader Liza Harvey also lost her seat of Scarborough. The Liberal Party room met on 23 March 2021 and elected David Honey (Cottesloe) unopposed as leader, with Libby Mettam (Vasse) becoming deputy leader.

The Nationals, led by Mia Davies (Central Wheatbelt), will become the official Opposition with four seats, of which one is occupied by a woman. Mia Davies was re-elected leader of the party following the election. The Nationals (previously titled the Country Party) have not been the official Opposition since 1942–1947.

State-wide primary vote shares were a massive 59.9 per cent for Labor (up 16.9 per cent since 2017), 21.3 per cent for Liberal (down 9.9%), 4.5 per cent for Nationals (down 0.9 per cent), 7.1 per cent for Greens (down 1.8%) and just 1.3 per cent for One Nation (down 3.7 per cent). [8]

Antony Green’s analysis shows that Labor recorded 69.7 per cent of the state-wide two-party preferred vote, a positive swing of 14.1 per cent, on top of the 12.8 per cent swing that put Labor into office in 2017. He predicts that to achieve a majority in the Legislative Assembly at the 2025 election, the Liberal and National parties need to gain 24 seats on a uniform swing of 23.5 per cent.

Twenty-eight women (47.5 per cent) have been elected to the Legislative Assembly and 15 women (41.7 per cent) to the Legislative Council.

Tables 1 and 2 below provide brief summaries of the results of the 2021 state election.

Table 1: Summary of first preference votes and seats won in the Legislative Assembly

Party Votes Votes (%) Votes (%) at 2017 election Seats won Change in seats from 2017 election
ALP 846,116 59.9 42.2 53 +13
LP 300,796 21.3 31.2 2 -11
NAT 56,448 4.4 5.4 4 -2
GRN 97,71 6.9 8.9 - -
PHON 17,824 1.3 4.9 - -
NMV 23,178 1.6 - - -
ACP 20,869 1.5 2.1 - -

Source: Western Australian Electoral Commission, 2021 State general election and 2017 state general election.

See Appendix B for party abbreviations

Table 2: Summary of first preference votes and seats won in the Legislative Council

Party Votes Votes (%) Vote (%) at 2017 election Seats won Change in seats from 2017 election
ALP 868,374 60.3 40.4 22 +9
LP 254,380 17.7 26.7 7 -2
NATS 40,285 2.8 4.4 3 -1
GRN 91,847 6.9 8.6 1 -3
LCWA 28,473 1.9 - 2 +2
PHON 21,259 1.5 8.2 - -2
NMV 16,094 1.1 - - -
ACP 28,051 1.9 1.9 - -
SSFP 21,210 1.5 2.4 - -1
WAP 10,496 0.7 - - -1
LDP 9,218 0.6 1.8 - -1
Daylight Saving 3,485 0.2 0.7 1 +1

Source: Western Australian Electoral Commission, 2021 State general election and 2017 state general election.

See Appendix B for party abbreviations

Notable developments at the election included:

  • Labor won 46 of its seats on first preferences and another seven after preferences.
  • The biggest swing was 27.0 per cent in Southern River, which comes on top of an 18.8 per cent swing in 2017.[9]
  • The One Nation vote fell from 4.93 per cent to just 1.26 per cent in the seats One Nation contested at both elections.
  • The recently formed No Mandatory Vaccination Party contested all 59 electorates and polled just 1.64 per cent.
  • The Daylight Saving Party’s Wilson Tucker, who was residing in the US at the time of the election, was an unlikely winner of a seat in the Legislative Council for the Mining and Pastoral region with just 98 primary votes.[10]
  • Another surprise winner was the Legalise Cannabis WA Party, which only formed in late 2020, gaining two seats in the Legislative Council—Sophia Moermond won a seat in the South West region with 4,532 first preference votes and Dr Brian Walker won a seat in the East Metropolitan Region with 9,258 first preference votes.[11]
  • The Greens’ vote in the Legislative Assembly was 6.9 per cent, down almost two per cent from 2017. The party also lost all of its four sitting members in the Legislative Council but won one seat in the South Metropolitan Region with 26,257 first preference votes.
  • The Liberal vote collapsed with the party retaining just two seats: Cottesloe and Vasse.

Early voting, turnout and informality

Turnout for the election was slightly lower than the 2017 election at 85.3 per cent (down from 87.5 per cent). There were 1,411,990 formal votes and 55,169 informal votes (3.8 per cent). The WAEC reports that a total of 1,467,159 votes were counted.[12]

Early voting was offered over the period of 14 February to 12 March: 70 Early Voting Centres (EVCs) were set up across the state. A total of 585,774 votes were cast at EVCs, with 86,548 cast on Friday 12 March, the day before election day. The WAEC also had a total of 169,301 postal vote packages returned, which meant a total of 755,075 votes—more than half of all votes—were cast before election day. It was reported that the 755,075 votes represented 45 per cent of the state’s 1.7 million electors.[13]

While the high number of pre-poll votes was at least partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it also continues a broader trend towards early voting at Australian elections, including federal polls.

The 2021 election saw a decline in informal votes to 55,097 (3.76 per cent) compared to 62,860 votes (4.5 per cent) at the 2017 election.


The McGowan ministry was sworn in on 19 March 2021. Five new faces were included in the ministry: five of the 18-member Cabinet are women (27.8 per cent). The full ministry is listed at Appendix A.

Michelle Roberts, the police minister in the previous government, was elected as the first female Speaker in WA's Legislative Assembly.

The Ceremonial Opening of the 41st Parliament was held on 29 April 2021. The Parliament commenced full sittings from 4 May 2021.


On 19 April 2021 the Liberal Party and the Nationals WA signed an Alliance Agreement to form an alliance partnership in Opposition for the next four year: the parties ruled out a coalition. The two parties have a joint shadow ministry.

The Liberal Party has established a three-person panel to review the poll result.

The election of Wilson Tucker from the Daylight Saving Party due to preference flows negotiated by micro-party broker and self-styled preference whisperer, Glenn Druery, has led to calls for electoral reform. A WA government spokesperson said the premier had asked the Attorney General, John Quigley, to ‘consider wider reforms to make our electoral system more democratic, so it can properly represent WA and reflect the intent of WA voters’ and stated ‘There is a considerable amount of work to do in assessing what is the fairest approach for Western Australians’. The spokesperson also stated ‘It is too early to say whether it may require a separate legislative package or amendments to the lapsed bill.’[14]

The Government has since commissioned a Ministerial Expert Committee to review and report on the WA electoral system for the election of the Western Australian Legislative Council.

Appendix A: post-election ministry

McGowan Government Cabinet

Hon. Mark McGowan MLA Premier; Treasurer; Minister for Public Sector Management; Federal-State Relations
Hon. Roger Cook MLA Deputy Premier; Minister for Health; Medical Research; State Development, Jobs and Trade; Science
Hon. Sue Ellery MLC Minister for Education and Training; Leader of the Legislative Council
Hon. Stephen Dawson MLC Minister for Mental Health; Aboriginal Affairs; Industrial Relations; Deputy Leader of the Legislative Council
Hon. Alannah MacTiernan MLC Minister for Regional Development; Agriculture and Food; Hydrogen Industry
Hon. David Templeman MLA Minister for Tourism; Culture and the Arts; Heritage; Leader of the House
Hon. John Quigley MLA Attorney General; Minister for Electoral Affairs
Hon. Paul Papalia MLA Minister for Police; Road Safety; Defence Industry; Veterans Issues
Hon. Bill Johnston MLA Minister for Mines and Petroleum; Energy; Corrective Services
Hon. Rita Saffioti MLA Minister for Transport; Planning; Ports
Hon. Dr Tony Buti MLA Minister for Finance; Lands; Sport and Recreation; Citizenship and Multicultural Interests
Hon. Simone McGurk MLA Minister for Child Protection; Women's Interests; Prevention of Family and Domestic Violence; Community Services
Hon. Dave Kelly MLA Minister for Water; Forestry; Youth
Hon. Amber-Jade Sanderson MLA Minister for Environment; Climate Action; Commerce 
Hon. John Carey MLA Minister for Housing; Local Government
Hon. Don Punch MLA Minister for Disability Services; Fisheries; Innovation and ICT; Seniors and Ageing
Hon. Reece Whitby MLA Minister for Emergency Services; Racing and Gaming; Small Business; Volunteering
Mr David Michael MLA Cabinet Secretary

Parliamentary Secretaries

Parliamentary Secretary Minister
Hon. Samantha Rowe MLC Hon Simone McGurk MLA
Minister for Child Protection; Women’s Interests; Prevention of Family and Domestic Violence; Community Services
Hon. Darren West MLC Hon Alannah MacTiernan MLC
Minister for Regional Development; Agriculture and Food; Hydrogen Industry
Mr Terry Healy MLA Hon Sue Ellery MLC
Minister for Education and Training
Mr Simon Millman MLA Hon Roger Cook MLA
Deputy Premier; Minister for Health; Medical Research; State Development, Jobs and Trade; Science
Mr Yaz Mubarakai MLA Hon Dr Tony Buti MLA
Minister for Finance; Lands; Sport and Recreation; Citizenship and Multicultural Interests
Ms Jessica Shaw MLA Hon David Templeman MLA
Minister for Tourism; Culture and the Arts; Heritage
Ms Jessica Stojkovski MLA Hon Rita Saffioti MLA
Minister for Transport; Planning; Ports
Ms Sabine Winton MLA Hon Mark McGowan MLA
Premier; Treasurer; Minister for Public Sector Management; Federal-State Relations
Hon. Kyle McGinn MLC Hon Don Punch MLA
Minister for Disability Services; Fisheries; Innovation and ICT; Seniors and Ageing
Hon. Matthew Swinbourn MLC Hon John Quigley MLA
Attorney General; Minister for Electoral Affairs

Source: M McGowan (Premier of Western Australia), Premier announces re-elected Labor Government Ministry portfolios, media release, 18 March 2021

Appendix B: party abbreviations

ALP Australian Labor Party (West Australian Branch)
ACP Australian Christian Party
GRN The Greens (WA) Inc
Ind Independent
LCWA Legalise Cannabis Western Australia Party
LP Liberal Party of Australia (West Australia Division) Inc
LDP Liberal Democratic Party
NAT National Party of Australia (WA) Inc
NMV No Mandatory Vaccination Party
PHON Pauline Hanson’s One Nation
SAP-SOC Sustainable Australia Party – Stop Overdevelopment/ Corruption
SSFP Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party (WA)
WAxit WAxit Party
WAP Western Australia Party

[1].   A Green, ‘WA's zonal electoral system and the Legislative Council reform debate’, Antony Green’s election blog, 4 May 2021.

[2].   A Green, 2019 Redistribution Western Australia, Election Papers Series, No. 1/2019, Western Australian Parliamentary Library, Perth, December 2019, p. 5.

[3].   Liberal Party of Western Australia, ‘Opposition Alliance Agreement Formalised’, media release, 19 April 2021.

[4].   R Lundie, Western Australia state election 2017, Research paper series 2017–18, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 18 September 2017.

[5].   Parliamentary Library of Western Australia, Women MPs in the 40th Parliament of Western Australia, Parliament of Western Australia, August 2017, updated December 2018.

[6].   Western Australia Government Gazette, Special, no 59, 17 March 2017, pp. 1633–34.

[7].   Western Australia Legislative Assembly, Procedure and Privileges Committee, Misleading the House: statements made by the Member for Darling Range, Report no 2, May 2018, Parliament of Western Australia, 2018.

[8].   A Beaumont, ‘Labor obliterates Liberals in historic WA election; will win control of upper house for first time’, The Conversation, 14 March 2021.

[9].   A Green, ‘Final two-party preferred result for 2021 Western Australian Election’, Antony Green’s election blog, 30 March 2021.

[10]. C Wahlquist, ‘WA candidate elected to parliament with less than 100 votes prompts calls for electoral reform’, Guardian, 7 April 2021.

[11]. J Zimmerman, ‘Opinion: 'Mr 98 votes' will be the last’, West Australian, 8 April 2021.

[12]. Western Australian Electoral Commission (WAEC), ‘Return of writ’, WAEC website, 16 April 2021.

[13]. P de Kruijff, ‘State election 2021: everything you need to know as WA votes’, WA Today, 13 March 2021.

[14]. C Wahlquist, op. cit.


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