Tomorrow’s Western Australian election will be the first held under the one-vote one-value reforms which Labor manoeuvred through the upper house after its re-election in 2005.
In one sense this makes it the fairest ever, with all 59 electorates having enrolment of around 23,000 except for a few remote seats subject to the “large district allowance”. This compares with the old system where city seats had around 26,000 voters and country seats half as many.
However, the one-vote one-value redistribution has unquestionably been a boon to Labor, as it locks conservative support in a small number of ultra-safe country seats while efficiently distributing Labor strength across a larger number of eastern and southern suburbs seats. Based on the booth-by-booth calculations of Antony Green, this boosts Labor from 32 seats out of 57 to a notional 38 out of 59, giving them a good chance of retaining their majority from as little as 49 per cent of the two-party vote.
On paper Labor has a handy buffer, but a lot of its seats are tougher than the notional margins make them appear. Many have razor-thin margins, and the shifting boundaries have cost them the advantage of a sitting member in many important areas. In optimistic moments Labor has hoped for notional gains from the Liberals in Albany and Geraldton, which have moved to the Liberal column after expanding into rural territory. However, such hopes have evaporated since last week, and the challenge for Labor is to limit its losses to eight seats out of the following.
Kingsley (Northern Suburbs, 0.03%): When Judy Hughes won Kingsley for Labor for the first time ever in 2005, she was aided by an unpopular Liberal candidate (Colin Edwardes, husband of outgoing member Cheryl) and a dissident Liberal independent whose preferences broke 50-50. This time the Liberals have something they badly lack elsewhere, an appealing female candidate in Tennis West director Andrea Mitchell. With talk of the northern suburbs as “tiger country”, Labor wrote this one off early in the campaign.
Darling Range (Eastern Outskirts, 0.8%): This is really the successor to abolished Serpentine-Jarrahdale, with the existing seat of Darling Range turning into marginal Liberal Kalamunda. It will accordingly be contested for the Liberals by Serpentine-Jarrahdale MP Tony Simpson, who stands to benefit from the “sophomore surge” that new members enjoy when facing their first re-election.
Bunbury (Regional City, 0.9%): Gained for the Liberals by former mayor John Castrilli in 2005, the electorate of Bunbury has expanded into the city’s Labor-leaning outer southern and eastern suburbs. This makes it a notional Labor seat, but all the indications are that Castrilli has secured a tight grip.
Collie-Preston (South West, 0.9%): A merger of Collie-Wellington and Capel, Collie-Preston is a contest between their respective sitting members, Labor’s Mick Murray and the Liberals’ Steve Thomas. Murray’s campaigning prowess entered folklore when he picked up a 6.6 per cent on his first re-election bid in 2005. However, the pattern of the swing demonstrated that his constituency is miners rather than the farmers, and it’s the latter he will need to win over in the Capel territory. Thomas has been plying his wares here since entering parliament at the last election, and would have to start short-priced favourite.
Ocean Reef (Northern suburbs, 1.6%): This new outern northern coastal seat is carved out of Labor-held Mindarie and Joondalup, so Labor are losing the personal votes of John Quigley and Tony O’Gorman. Both parties have fielded young candidates: Liberal candidate Albert Jacob is a 28-year-old local councillor with a trendy haircut, Labor’s Louise Durack a 30-year-old social worker. The seat’s natural home is on the Liberal side of the pendulum, and that’s where it’s very likely to end up after tomorrow.
Riverton (Southern Suburbs, 2.1%): Labor targeted Riverton late in the 2005 campaign with a promise to take semi-trailers off the section of Leach Highway that runs through this electorate, and it’s only been partly delivered. Labor member Tony McRae is one of the four ministers who lost his job as a result of the Corruption and Crime Commission inquiries, and his slender margin is unlikely to be enough. The Liberal candidate is Mike Nahan, former executive director of the Institute of Public Affairs.
North West (Self-expanatory, 3.1%): The Liberals’ chances here are boosted by the return of popular former member Rod Sweetman, who was left homeless by the redistribution before the last election. Labor on the other hand loses the personal vote of retiring member Fred Riebeling, who has been showing his vote-getting ways since winning the Ashburton by-election in the dog days of 1992. Their candidate Vince Catania has represented the area as an MLC for Mining and Pastoral region since the 2005 election, but was derided at that time as an inner-city blow-in.
Jandakot (Southern suburbs, 3.6%): Labor has a great deal invested in Jandakot, home to the Fiona Stanley Hospital site and beneficiary of the Perth-to-Mandurah rail line. Most of the voters come from what were previously Liberal-held seats, so unlike other new Labor seats the margin should not be discounted for the lack of a sitting member.
Swan Hills (North-eastern suburbs, 3.6%): Alan Carpenter had good reason to insist that Jaye Radisich stand and fight in Swan Hills rather than take the safe new option of West Swan, as her retirement deprives Labor of her personal vote in the seat that could decide the election. Labor has nominated upper house MP Graham Giffard, who faces local councillor Frank Alban of the Liberals. The electorate is the key target of Labor’s campaign launch promise to build a rail line to Ellenbrook, which was promptly matched by the Liberal. The latter have carpeted the electorate with flyers announcing: “Liberals will build rail line to Ellenbrook”.
Joondalup (Northern suburbs, 4.4%): Labor’s entrenched sitting member Tony O’Gorman faces a low-profile Liberal in Milly Zuvella, perhaps reflecting the lack of confidence in the the party’s prospects earlier in the year. Labor are in big trouble if O’Gorman can’t hang on.
Forrestfield (Eastern suburbs, 4.5%): This new seat in the eastern suburbs contains roughly equal numbers of voters from Liberal (Darling Range) and Labor (Kenwick, Belmont and Midland) seats. Labor’s Andrew Waddell has run a computer service business and worked for the Industrial Relations Commission; the Liberal candidate is deputy school principal Nathan Morton, whose reputation does not precede him.
Southern River (Southern suburbs, 5.1%): This south-eastern suburbs has been shifted westwards by the redistribution, burdening Labor member Paul Andrews with unfamiliar voters around Canning Vale who have cut his margin by 6.7 per cent. Liberal candidate Peter Abetz is the brother of Tasmanian Senator and Right faction warlord Eric Abetz.
Mount Lawley (Inner northern suburbs, 5.8%): Both sides are campaigning like they mean it in this re-created inner city seat. In an earlier incarnation Mount Lawley was fairly safe for the Liberals, but Mount Lawley itself (as opposed to Yokine in the north of the electorate) has since developed a left-bohemian flavour. Both candidates are newcomers: Labor’s Karen Brown is a former West Australian deputy editor hand-picked by Alan Carpenter, Liberal Michael Sutherland is Perth’s Deputy Lord Mayor.
Wanneroo (Northern suburbs, 6.1%): New housing developments in this rapidly growing area favour the Liberals, but Labor’s Dianne Guise has incumbency and a handy buffer. Wanneroo councillor Paul Miles is making is second run as Liberal candidate.
There are a few other seats of interest that don’t fit the two-party mould.
In Nedlands, Liberal-turned-independent MP Sue Walker will attempt to retain her seat against Liberal candidate Bill Marmion. Walker has a reputation for being a bit flaky, and indications are she will struggle.
Janet Woollard has twice won Alfred Cove as an independent and, while it’s expected she will do so again, it must be remembered that her 2005 re-election was less than convincing.
Kalgoorlie will be a messy contest following the retirement of locally popular Matt Birney and the entry of John Bowler, the Murchison-Eyre MP who was kicked out of the ALP over his dealings with the Brian Burke/Julian Grill lobbying axis.
Another dumped minister, John D’Orazio, will contest his suburban seat of Morley after quitting the party. Despite their ministerial indiscretions, both Bowler and D’Orazio have loyal bases in their respective areas.
The one-vote one-value redistribution has made Nationals-versus-Liberal contests of two country seats, Moore and Blackwood-Stirling.
My tip is that Labor will lose as many seats as it can afford to and no more: Kingsley, Darling Range, Bunbury, Collie-Preston, Ocean Reef, Riverton, North West and Swan Hills.
Obviously such a prediction is made without confidence with respect to the winning party. There is ample reason to believe the Liberals have had their nose in front in the final week, but it’s tempting to think a late better-the-devil-you-knew effect will be potent against a party that has had four leaders in one term.
Otherwise it will be a question of the kind of government Colin Barnett can cobble together, with perhaps four Nationals and two independents holding the balance of power.