Australia’s first election for the year takes place tomorrow, with a by-election in the Western Australian state seat of Peel to replace disgraced former minister Norm Marlborough.

Peel is in the extensive southern beachside suburbs of Perth, surrounding but not including the regional centre of Rockingham. Despite the recent introduction of one-vote-one-value, the by-election will be fought on the old boundaries, under which Peel gets only half the representation of the very similar areas to its south – it happens to be just inside the official boundary of the metropolitan area.

The southern suburbs are generally solid Labor territory – Peel is in the heart of Kim Beazley’s seat of Brand – and at the 2005 election Marlborough won with 63.5% of the vote.

But his enforced resignation, after Corruption and Crime Commission phone taps revealed him taking orders from Brian Burke, can be expected to yield a substantial swing to the opposition.

The by-election will be a test of several things, including the standing of Labor premier Alan Carpenter and opposition leader Paul Omodei, each of whom has been the job for only about a year.

It will also test the electorate’s memory: since the Christmas holidays have intervened since the scandal, Labor must be hoping that it will no longer be fresh in most voters’ minds.

Liberal Graeme Coleman, who is reported to be well known locally, says he faces “an uphill battle” to win the seat. Labor’s candidate, navy veteran Paul Papalia, must still be favourite, but he is probably resigned to losing a large part of that 13.5% margin. (For more reports, see the Poll Bludger’s story and comments.)

In other news, Antony Green’s ABC website for the New South Wales election on 24 March is now up and running, and is indispensable reading for election watchers.

Peter Fray

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