Richardson calls it – a reasonably comfortable win for the Gallop government.
It’s all over. Yesterday’s $200 million hole in his budget costings was the last nail in the coffin of opposition leader Colin Barnett. Even The West Australian, which has worked tirelessly for a Coalition victory, gave it the teaser “Colin Barnett’s financial train wreck”.
John Langoulant, head of the WA Chamber of Commerce, said that Barnett “hasn’t taken financial accountability seriously. If this is the way this state is going to be run, we’ve got a problem.” When you’re a Liberal leader and the head of the business lobby says that, you’ve got a big problem.
The commentators still think it’s close. Here’s Steve Pennells, state political editor at The West: “Knife edge. Down to the wire. Pick your cliché, they all apply. Rarely are elections this close.”
But the punters don’t think it’s close at all. I’m not one of those who believe the betting market is an infallible guide to elections. If the odds were, say, Labor 6-4 on and Coalition 5-4 against, I’d say that didn’t add much to our knowledge.
The spread, though, is much bigger than that: Centrebet this morning says Labor 5-1 on and Coalition 3-1 against. That’s the biggest it’s been, but it’s been steadily moving that way ever since Colin Barnett announced his surprise monster canal plan. I find that a pretty compelling piece of evidence.
So here’s how I see it playing out tomorrow.
First the Labor marginals. Everyone seems to agree that Bunbury (0.2%) is a write-off: Labor’s most marginal seat, big One Nation presence last time, and an exceptionally strong Liberal candidate.
Then there are another five that seem to be in serious danger: Swan Hills (0.3%), Murray (0.7%), Mindarie (1.2%), Riverton (3.1%) and Albany (3.7%). This is the battleground; any of them could fall, and none would be a surprise Liberal win (the Nationals also rate themselves a chance in Albany, but that would be a surprise). But the opposition needs to win all of them to be confident of forming a government, and that task looks to be beyond them.
I am guessing the Liberals will fall over the line in one of the five, my tip being Murray.
There are other Labor seats in play – Collie-Wellington, Geraldton, Joondalup and Wanneroo all have margins under 4%, and North West Coastal (5.4%) and even Mandurah (7.7%) are thought to be at some risk. But the way things have played out I do not expect the government to be troubled in any of them.
Then the opposition marginals. There are three Liberal seats held with margins of under 4%: Darling Range (0.5%), Kalgoorlie (1%) and Kingsley (2.5%).
Kalgoorlie does not look to be in danger (a blow to devotees of the theory that One Nation was crucial to the 2001 election, since it was the one seat that the Coalition gained on One Nation preferences). But the other two could go. My feeling is that Darling Range will hold (despite the fact that Family First is targeting the ALP), but that Kingsley, in the swinging northern suburbs with a retiring Liberal member, could just move into the Labor column.
If there is a serious swing to Labor on, then other Liberal seats will be in danger: Murdoch, Serpentine-Jarrahdale, Hillarys, Carine, Dawesville. I don’t expect things to go that far, but those seats will all be worth a look tomorrow night, and don’t be surprised if one or more of them turns out to be close.
Of the four independent-held seats, it is universally believed that South Perth and Central Kimberley-Pilbara, whose sitting members are retiring, will return to the Liberals and the ALP respectively. Liz Constable, independent in Churchlands, is thought to be reasonably safe.
The difficult one is Alfred Cove, where Janet Woollard (elected as Liberals for Forests in 2001, when she beat “Dodgy Doug” Shave) faces a determined challenge from the Liberals’ Graham Kierath. It’s a toss-up, but I’m tipping Woollard to hold on.
Also in contention is Bernie Masters is Vasse, elected as a Liberal but running as an independent after losing preselection: he is not without a chance, but my guess is that he’ll go down.
Finally there are some interesting battles between Liberals and Nationals: the Liberals are mounting serious challenges in the Nationals’ seats of Roe and Stirling, where sitting members are retiring, while the Nationals have hopes in the Liberal-held seats of Greenough and Moore. If national trends mean anything, the Nats are more likely to go backward than forward; I am tipping Roe to change hands.
My totals therefore come to Labor unchanged at 32 seats, Liberals 19 (up 3), Nationals 4 (down 1) and independents 2 (down 2). That’s not a landslide by any means, so it would break the pattern of the other states to that extent. But if I’m right it’s a reasonably comfortable win for the Gallop government, which had looked to be in very serious trouble a month or two ago.
And if the momentum of the last two weeks really has an impact, then a better result still for Labor is very much a possibility.