The WA Liberal party will go to the State election in March behind WA’s first Indigenous party leader after Dawesville MP Zak Kirkup and Shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs was elected unopposed on Tuesday following Liza Harvey’s surprise resignation on Sunday.

Bateman MP Dean Nalder had nominated for a tilt at the top job but withdrew from consideration when it became clear he didn’t have the votes to win. Vasse MP Libby Mettam took the deputy leadership unopposed.

Kirkup’s paternal grandfather is a Yamatji man from WA’s Mid West region. In his first term, Kirkup, 33, is a relative newcomer and holds his seat of Dawesville on a slim margin of just 0.9 per cent.

The newly elected leader has a slog ahead of him, facing down a historically popular Premier in Mark McGowan while trying to shake the damage done to the party by former leader Liza Harvey’s criticism of the wildly popular hard state borders.

In his first address to the media following the vote, Kirkup made it clear the new leadership would be taking a different tack to the party under Harvey.

“The essential principle that we will take with us throughout this campaign will be that we 100 per cent support without hesitation, without equivocation the advice given to us by the Chief Health Officer in order to keep Western Australia safe,” he said.

He promised an end to partisan squabbles in the management of the pandemic.

“There will be no Liberal Party, there will be no Labor Party in terms of how this state manages COVID-19; there will be only Western Australia.”

Kirkup touted his credentials as an Aussie battler, aiming to get ahead of a potentially damaging reputation as privileged and egotistical after Kirkup’s Young Liberal business card bearing the moniker ‘Future Prime Minister’ emerged.

“As you know, I handed the business cards to the Prime Minister in 2004 in the Midland Town Hall, that read ‘Future Prime Minister’. To me, what that means is that I have always wanted to serve the people of Western Australia,” he said.

“I don’t come from the establishment, I don’t come from money, I grew up in the eastern suburbs of Perth.”

Kirkup has just three months to turn the WA Liberals’ election prospects around. Despite former leader Mike Nahan calling for the resignation of factional heavyweight Peter Collier and Nedlands MP Bill Marmion, Kirkup said he is backed by a united party.

“We are a united team; that’s exactly why we’re here today standing united with a united vision about what we want to offer to the people of Western Australia,” Kirkup said.

“We want to make sure there is the best possible vision going forward and making sure that we are the alternative government in 109 days’ time.”

By Sarah Smit