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WA election: counting preferences in upper house races

Upper house preference tickets for the Western Australian state election were lodged yesterday. Labor announced on Sunday it will direct preferences to the Liberals ahead of the Nationals in Warren-Blackwood, Central Wheatbelt, Eyre, North West Central, Geraldton and Kimberley. What impact will it have?

Labor voters’ compliance with how-to-vote cards ranges from the mid-20s to the high 40s, depending on how many people they have staffing polling booths, which in many of the relevant seats wouldn’t be much. Looking at the individual seats …

Warren-Blackwood: The Liberals apparently have a sniff here of unseating Nationals member Terry Redman, who has made some locals unhappy over his support for genetically modified crop trials. Labor’s redistribution-adjusted vote is 18.3%, so that might mean about 5% of the vote flipping from Nationals to Liberal. Redman won by a handsome 17.3% margin over the Liberals in 2008, but the redistribution has seen the electorate lose rural areas in exchange for what for the Nationals is the alien territory of Margaret River.

Central Wheatbelt: This seat is being vacated by Brendon Grylls’ pitch at Pilbara and contested for the Nationals by Agricultural region MLC Mia Davies. Labor’s vote is 16% so it’s a roughly similar story to Warren-Blackwood, although their how-to-vote penetration here would be particularly poor.

Eyre: The Nationals fell 3.4% short of unseating Liberal member Graham Jacobs here in 2008 with help from Labor preferences. With a Labor vote of 19.3%, it’s looking quite a bit harder for them to go one better this time.

North West Central: It would be sweet revenge for Labor if its preferences cost Vince Catania his bid for re-election as a National after he defected from Labor, but in order for it to happen Labor will have to finish third in a seat which they won at the last election. The redistribution made the seat considerably stronger for the Nationals, producing post-redistribution primary votes of 32.7% for Labor, 29.3% for the Liberals and 22.8% for the Nationals. Catania is relying on a surge of Nationals support in any case, as is Brendon Grylls in neighbouring Pilbara, but if it comes too much at the expense of Labor he could then be fighting on a new front against the Liberals. Most of the voters in the electorate live in large-ish towns, so how-to-vote card penetration should be a lot better than in the aforementioned electorates, particularly if Labor is feeling motivated to punish Catania.

Geraldton: On paper you would think the primary votes of 36.9% Liberal, 29.1% Labor and 19.3% Nationals have the Liberals too high to be threatened and Labor too high to be overtaken by the Nationals. However, Labor pulling the plug on government funding for the nearby Oakajee project to help fund Metronet could cause them to take a hit, finish third and just conceivably put a surging Nationals over the line.

Kimberley: There’s a fair bit of chatter around that the Liberals are failing to gain traction here, so Labor finishing third seems an unlikely prospect. Nonetheless, this is an electorate where nothing can be taken for granted. The primary votes are 41.2% for Labor, 26% for Liberal and 18.3% for the Nationals.

Meanwhile, an already complex contest in Agricultural region has been made all the more headache-inducing by the preference tickets. The result here in 2008 was three Nationals, two Liberal and one Labor, but two of the elected Nationals are now running on a formidable looking independent ticket that would have to be odds on to get one member up and could conceivably win two.

The field has also been flooded by a suspiciously large number of other independents, many with unorthodox preference allocations. The major players have also done unusual things with preferences, often treating candidates from the same parties very differently.

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