Rookie Kirkup to lead divided WA Liberals

Zak Kirkup has been chosen to lead the West Australian Liberals at the March election.
Zak Kirkup has been chosen to lead the West Australian Liberals at the March election.

Party divisions, a pandemic and a rampantly popular premier are among the challenges facing rookie MP Zak Kirkup after he was handed the leadership of the West Australian Liberals with less than four months until the state election.

Mr Kirkup, 33, has been elected unopposed to lead the depleted opposition after a series of disastrous polls prompted Liza Harvey's resignation.

Lone challenger Dean Nalder withdrew his candidacy shortly before Tuesday morning's partyroom meeting, saying it was clear he did not have the numbers to prevail.

But the strains within the party were laid bare when Ms Harvey's predecessor Mike Nahan fronted the media, calling for influential upper house MP Peter Collier and fellow veteran Bill Marmion to retire so the party can regenerate.

A "despondent" Mr Nahan, who has already confirmed he will retire at the March election, said powerbrokers continued to hold too much sway, and the Liberals were heading to the polls with no new policies and little money.

The party later sought to present a united front, with the entire partyroom standing behind Mr Kirkup and newly-elected deputy Libby Mettam at a press conference.

"What members say on the way in, I'll leave it up to them, but ultimately we're standing here today as a united team and I know that's what matters most to people in Western Australia," Mr Kirkup told reporters.

Mr Kirkup is WA's youngest opposition leader in more than a century. His involvement in the Liberal party dates back to his teenage years when he handed a business card to John Howard describing himself as "future prime minister".

One of the party's strongest performers as health spokesman for the past 18 months, he faces a titanic battle.

Having already been reduced to just 13 of 59 seats in the lower house, the Liberals have faced months of dreadful polling.

Premier Mark McGowan's approval ratings have meanwhile reached record highs, with voters strongly backing WA's hard border closures.

Labor is widely expected to win a second term and is targeting further marginal Liberal seats after a landslide victory in 2017.

"I've fought 14 elections in my time. Not one of them is unwinnable," Mr Kirkup said.

"I am up for the fight, the team behind me is up for the fight."

No Liberal seat is tighter than Dawesville, south of Perth, which Mr Kirkup holds by a margin of just 0.7 per cent.

Mr Kirkup said he was confident of winning his electorate's support and ruled out moving to a safer seat.

Liberal MPs had grown increasingly anxious about the prospects of an electoral annihilation under Ms Harvey, who was criticised for equivocating on the state's border closures.

Mr Kirkup has pledged to back in the chief health officer's advice "100 per cent".

"There will be no deviation between the Liberal party and the Labor party when it comes to COVID-19," he said.

The premier labelled the opposition a "trainwreck".

"We've been through the most traumatic events in Australia in 75 years," Mr McGowan said.

"At this point in time, you need serious people in charge."

Australian Associated Press