Labor s uphill battle for power
Nose in front: Colin Barnett meets seven-month-old Thomas and his mother Kym Van Rongen at Ngala. Picture: Lee Griffith/ The West Australian

Mark McGowan has made no headway in his 12 months as Labor leader against Colin Barnett and the Liberals, according to the latest Westpoll, which shows Perth's transport congestion woes have emerged as the defining issue of the election campaign.

The Statewide poll of 400 voters reveals Labor's primary vote has risen just 1 point to 30 per cent in the year since Mr McGowan replaced Eric Ripper as Opposition Leader, while the two-party preferred result is unchanged at 59 per cent to the Liberal-Nationals Government and 41 per cent to Labor.

With seven weeks until the March 9 poll, gains detected in a July Westpoll that showed Mr McGowan had begun to narrow the gap have been erased.

Mr Barnett is preferred as Premier by 51 per cent of those polled compared with 48 per cent a year ago, while Mr McGowan is preferred by just 35 per cent, compared with 33 when he took over the reins.

The electorate believes the result is a foregone conclusion, with 70 per cent of those polled saying the Liberal-Nationals Government would retain power compared with just 20 per cent who believe Labor can engineer an upset.

Latest odds from bookmaker Sportsbet.com.au have the Government at $1.10 to be returned, with Labor paying $6.

Westpoll reveals public transport and congestion issues are the No.1 election issue for voters in Perth, with 24 per cent nominating the problems as their biggest concern compared with just 6 per cent six months ago.

They eclipsed health, economic management, education and the cost of living, which is falling off the radar as an issue with just 11 per cent of voters nominating it as a primary concern, and explains why Labor has switched tactics to put its Metronet public transport plan at the centre of its campaign.

"Labor is not making any ground at all using their cost of living mantra," pollster Patterson Research Group said. "Our data from January 2012 showed that while voters were hurting under the cost of living increases, the clear view was that costs would have been the same under a Labor government.

"The Liberals seem to have convinced voters that the cost-of-living increases are a fact of life in a changing world, not something that was due to their economic management. In short, Labor has been backing the wrong horse."

While the 59-41 Statewide two-party preferred result represents a crushing lead for Mr Barnett and his Government, strategists in the major parties believe that figure is skewed by the Liberals' dominance in a number of safe seats.

Neither side is predicting as emphatic a result as the poll suggests, with Liberal sources saying their "best case scenario" is a three to five seat margin of victory on the basis that they start from a position of minority government holding 29 of 59 seats in the Parliament.

It is understood Labor internal polling of marginal seats shows a much closer contest than the Westpoll portrays, but that Labor would still lose an election held today.

Liberal Party director Ben Morton declined to comment, but a senior party source said the campaign would be buoyed.

"If you were sitting in the Government strategy room saying is this good news or bad news, you'd be saying largely this is good news," the source said.

"McGowan has stumbled, the key issue they have run on for four years (cost of living) is not a vote turner. People are just going to have in their mind a choice between McGowan and Barnett, if they can remember who McGowan is."

WA Labor State secretary Simon Mead said the election could only be won if its ideas were better than the Government's.

"Those better ideas include safer country roads and Metronet," he said. "That's all we can do. We can go out and fight for every vote, we can talk to every voter and talk to them about their better ideas."

The West Australian

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