Wild COVID comments derail campaign
A Liberal candidate for the West Australian state election is being dogged by comments her husband made about COVID-19 being part of God’s “reset” for humanity, but says she has her own views.
Burns Beach candidate Trish Botha and her husband Paul Botha were the founding ministers of Mindarie-based One Church Perth in 2005 but she has not worked for the evangelical organisation for more than five years.
That hasn’t stopped reporters asking about her partner’s views, with his sermons posted on the church’s subscription-only YouTube page espousing mistrust for the science of coronavirus.
“The power of God brought this coronavirus to bear and the power of God is going to shift nations and shift the church and shift families and shift people from one direction to a completely new direction,” he reportedly says in one sermon.
But Ms Botha, who unsuccessfully ran for the Senate in the 2019 federal election, told The Sunday Times: “I am a woman with my own views. I have made that point clear in the past and I want to make it clear again.”
Queensland-born Ms Botha, who listed values including freedom of speech in her Senate pitch to voters, was sought for comment.
At WA Labor’s official campaign launch on Sunday, Health Minister Roger Cook drew titters from the crowd when he said the state needed a government “that believes in science”.
It’s not the first time the embattled Liberals have hit headlines over the views of its candidates, and their partners, ahead of the March 13 poll.
Last month, WA Liberal leader Zak Kirkup was forced to tell Baldivis candidate Andrea Tokaji to withdraw from the race after it emerged she wrote an opinion piece linking the 5G network to COVID-19, telling reporters “dangerous conspiracy theories” had no place in the party.
Soon after, he refused to let Victoria Park candidate Amanda-Sue Markham respond to a question from the media about her pastor husband Campbell Markham saying gay people could be “cleansed” and pornography viewers would go to hell.
On Sunday, Mr Kirkup said he was “very proud to stand alongside each and every one of my candidates” after hearing Mr Cook had described some of them as “tinfoil hat wearers”.
He said Mr Botha’s comments had nothing to do with his party.
“It’s not reflective of the candidate’s views, not reflective of the Liberal party’s views,” he said.
“I strongly support the independence and individual agency of Trish Botha.
“In 2021, we've reached the point where we should all expect that women are able to have their own views that aren’t shaped by anyone else around them.”
Meanwhile, the latest Newspoll published in The Australian suggests the Liberals could be reduced from 13 seats in the lower house to just two in a humiliating, history-making election wipe-out.
Mr Kirkup says Labor gaining “total control” is a scary proposition, even though political experts say it is unlikely the party will secure the upper house majority.
“They want absolute power,” the WA Liberal’s youngest ever leader said.
“If they get control of the Legislative Council it will mean there will be no checks and balances.”
Asked about the poll, Mr Kirkup said they “come and go” but “there is no doubt that it’s going to be tough”.
“I understand it's going to be one of the most difficult elections we probably have ever faced,” he said.
“Polling aside, our job is very much focused on talking to the people of Western Australia about our plan and our vision.”
Premier Mark McGowan said polls had been shown to be “wildly inaccurate” and he took them “with a grain of salt”.
“Everyone needs to take a cold shower,” Mr McGowan told journalists ahead of the launch.
The Premier’s popularity has soared over his handling of the COVID-19 crisis – with at least one voter inking a tattoo tribute on his leg to the former navy lawyer.
He also got a staggering 91 per cent approval rating in September and had a preferred premier rating of 88 per cent in the latest Newspoll.
But the father of three insists Labor will “have to work hard for every vote”.
Mr McGowan, 53, has been emphasising Mr Kirkup’s tender age of 33, saying the Liberals represent a “very, very risky, inexperienced alternative”.
“If you want a safe, stable, sensible government, support my government,” he said, adding the opposition would “bankrupt the state”, referring to its refusal to have its election commitments independently costed.
Mr McGowan brought out star power on the eve of the launch, with actor Hugh Jackman praising Labor’s pledge to spend $100m on a film studio development in Fremantle.
The Premier was then flanked at a press conference by West Australian entertainer Tim Minchin, British comedian and writer turned WA resident Ben Elton and Hollywood actor Kate Walsh.
Mr Kirkup was unimpressed, saying Labor sought to “buy voters off” with a film studio while planning to close Fremantle port.
“While I support more investment in culture and the arts, I don’t think that’s a long term plan for the diversification of our economy,” he said.
At the launch, Mr McGowan confirmed Labor was targeting vulnerable seats held by Mr Kirkup (Dawesville), and two former WA Liberal leaders, Liza Harvey (Scarborough) and Mike Nahan (Riverton), by singling out the merits of his party’s candidates for those electorates.
He listed Labor’s first term achievements including “comprehensively” defeating Queensland businessman Clive Palmer in court, rolling out its flagship election promise - the Metronet rail network - and getting WA “back on track”, referring to turning around the state’s finances.
“We are the only state that did not go into recession. We are the only state in surplus,” Mr McGowan said, declaring his administration “the most stable government in 50 years”.
Along with stimulating the local film industry, the party’s ambitious new jobs plan includes continuing a freeze on TAFE fees for another four years, building iron ore wagons locally and using non-resident “fly in fly out” (FIFO) workforces in the resources sector only when there is no alternative.
“We have used our relationship with the resources sector and the practical realities of the pandemic to drive down the use of interstate FIFO ... and we want to do more to unwind the legacy of the last boom,” the Premier said.
“East coast FIFO should be the rare exception, not a common practice.”
Mr McGowan concluded by referring to his tough border stance during the health crisis.
“This is an election about who will fight for the health and livelihoods of Western Australians, it’s an election about who people trust to lead them through these unprecedented times and into the better ones to come,” he said.
“WA must stay the course. We cannot risk a change of approach now. In this environment, my government is the only safe, secure option.”
He said the public had “a renewed confidence in government” after seeing his party “fight tooth and nail for their jobs and the health and lives of their loved ones”.
“If you are thinking about voting for me and WA Labor in this election for the very first time, you should feel confident in that decision.”
Originally published as Wild COVID comments derail campaign