In a shock announcement, McGowan told a news conference in Perth on Monday he had “loved the role. But the truth is I’m tired, extremely tired – in fact I’m exhausted. The role of political leadership doesn’t stop – it’s relentless.”
The 55-year-old said he was confident WA Labor could win the 2025 state election, but he did not have “the energy or drive” to fight the campaign.
He has been premier since 2017, and was re-elected in 2021 in a stunning victory that almost wiped out the parliamentary WA Liberal party.
McGowan, whose popularity reached stratospheric levels – earlier this year it was at 88% – shot to national prominence during the pandemic when he shut the WA border, avoiding prolonged lockdowns and keeping the state’s economy strong.
His stance on the border was vindicated when the High Court rejected a challenge brought by businessman Clive Palmer, initially supported by the Morrison government.
The pandemic, and McGowan’s handling of it, brought out the historical separatist sentiments among Western Australians.
McGowan’s popularity was a factor in federal Labor picking up several seats at last year’s election, and his departure is an indirect blow for Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
McGowan said he had been considering his decision to leave parliament for some time but had needed to bring down the state budget, which had a strong surplus. McGowan is treasurer as well as premier.
He listed the government’s achievements, saying the state has “the strongest economy in Australia” and one of the strongest in the world. He noted the very good deal WA extracted from the Morrison government to get a bigger share of the nation’s goods and services tax.
McGowan said this would be his final week in his role.
He has been in parliament 26 and a half years and has led Labor, in opposition and government, for 11 and a half of those.
McGowan said he wasn’t naturally a combative person but every day he had to engage in confrontation and “I’m tired of it”.
He wanted to be seen as “an achiever”. “I just wanted to leave the state better than I found it, and do good things along the way […] improve the place in the long term.”
McGowan said he did not have any plans for what he would do “but I don’t want to stop work”.
He said he had wanted to give his successor, whoever it is, time to cement themselves in the role.
McGowan served in the navy before going into politics. He originally came from New South Wales but has since become known for his strong affinity for Rockingham, the often-derided city where he lives and which he has represented in parliament since 1996.
Albanese said in a statement: “Mark leaves office as he led, on his own terms and as his own man. He has been a great Premier of his proud state, an extraordinary leader for WA Labor and a trusted friend.
“Above all, Mark will be remembered for seeing the people of Western Australia safely through one of the most challenging crises in our nation’s history. In unprecedented times, Mark always held to his convictions and always sought to do the right thing by his state.”