Next WA premier touts his energy, drive as he steps up

The deputy premier has supported from the Labor Party’s left and right factions as the sole nominee for the leadership.

Under party rules he can’t be officially appointed as the state’s 31st premier until caucus meets on Tuesday to elect him.

The 57-year-old veteran, who has served as Mr McGowan’s deputy since Labor formed government in 2017, was upbeat on Wednesday.

But he faces a number of lingering challenges, including riots at the Banksia Hill Detention Centre, the state’s long-running fight for its GST share and challenges for the hospital system which the latest budget promised to fix. 

Alongside Transport Minister Rita Saffioti, who is almost certain to become his deputy, Mr Cook said it was a great honour to put himself forward as the state’s 31st premier. 

“I’m ready to lead … together we are ready to be the next premier and deputy premier of WA,” he said.

Mr Cook was quick to bat away questions about energy levels and suitability for the job following his demotion from health minister to the portfolios of development, jobs, trade and tourism.

“I have a lot of passion for this particular role and I’ve got a lot of energy and I know with Rita in the deputy role we’ll continue to make sure the ideas are fresh,” he said.

“The public will judge us on our actions and our merits.”

He forecast little change to government policies as he outlined his vision for the state, saying he would continue to be economically responsible and socially progressive.

“The people of WA put their trust in the Labor Party to govern them in 2017 and again in 2021 and we will continue to honour that trust and deliver on the commitments we made,” he said.

“We will focus on cost-of-living pressures, health, housing and job opportunities for West Australians.”

Mr Cook declined to comment on Mr McGowan’s recent scathing statements about the troubled Banksia Hill centre and its inmates following a riot that caused $30 million damage.

“This is a tough mission and a site about which many people have different ideas,” he said.

“The leadership Mr McGowan provided on Banksia Hill was absolutely spot on.”

Mr Cook promised to continue Mr McGowan’s hardline on WA’s share of the GST.

“We will fight tooth and nail to keep our fair share of the GST,” he said.

He declined to reveal which MPs would be rewarded with ministerial posts and said no deals had been done with unions or Labor factions to secure their support.

Ms Saffioti said she would be honoured to be appointed treasurer and Mr Cook said his only rival for the premier’s job, Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson, was likely to be given a senior position.

Ms Sanderson dropped out of the leadership race on Tuesday after MPs tied to the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union swung their support behind Mr Cook and Ms Saffioti. 

Mr McGowan, 55, held a snap press conference on Monday to announce his retirement as premier, treasurer and MP for Rockingham at the end of this week, citing exhaustion.

Mr Cook was health minister at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic before assuming the portfolios of state development, jobs and trade.

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