Conservative politics has a new hero in Colin Barnett, who in just five weeks has transformed the WA Liberal Party from feather-duster to rooster.

At the close of counting on Saturday night, Labor was assured of only 23 seats in the new 59-seat lower house after going in with a notional 38.
There will also be two independents with Labor associations: Carol Adams, who won Kwinana after twice being knocked back for preselection, and John Bowler, a former cabinet minister who survived the taint of Brian Burke associations to win Kalgoorlie from the Liberals.

The Liberals have won a bare minimum of 22 seats including nine gains from Labor: Bunbury, Kingsley, Darling Range, Ocean Reef, Swan Hills, Jandakot, Southern River, Mount Lawley and Morley, in ascending order of surprise.

Against this is the loss of Kalgoorlie and possibly Albany, a Labor-held seat made notionally Liberal by redistribution.

Labor can still hope to form a minority government without Nationals support if it wins four of five seats still in doubt, namely Riverton (where Labor is 32 votes behind), Wanneroo (six votes ahead), Albany (117 votes ahead), Forrestfield (242 votes ahead) and Collie-Preston (416 votes ahead).

However, the more likely result is that a patchwork of conservatives will account for a majority, including up to 27 Liberals, four Nationals and one or two independent Liberals.

The casualty list illustrates that the damage was done in the metropolitan area, where unexpected Labor losses cancelled out strong performances in regional seats including Albany, North West and Collie-Preston.

The election nonetheless defied the axiom that WA elections are won and lost in the northern suburbs of Perth, with Labor’s Tony O’Gorman and John Quigley achieving strong wins against the trend in Joondalup and Mindarie.

Some have credited these results to the benefits of incumbency, but that doesn’t seem to have helped Judy Hughes and Dianne Guise in neighbouring Kingsley (lost with a swing of 5.4 per cent) and Wanneroo (lineball after a 6.7 per cent swing).

Nor is it easy to explain why Labor’s Shane Hill should have suffered a double-digit drubbing in Geraldton while the similarly placed Peter Watson remains in the hunt in Albany.

One recurring theme has been the poor performance by Alan Carpenter’s slate of hand-picked candidates,  choices he hoped would signal of his break with Brian Burke’s influence and establish a power base outside the existing faction system.

The outstanding examples are Channel Seven reporter Reece Whitby and lobbyist Karen Brown, respectively nominated for Morley and Mount Lawley in Perth’s inner north.

Whitby and Brown were endorsed at the expense of sitting members John D’Orazio and Bob Kucera, who had both been dumped from cabinet and denied preselection at Carpenter’s insistence.

D’Orazio duly ran against Whitby as an independent and directed his preferences to the Liberals, contributing to a double-digit swing that wiped out Labor’s 9.8 per cent margin.

Opponents of Carpenter’s purge have been quick to argue that a more tolerant attitude to members’ transgressions might have saved the seats for Labor.

Another phenomenon of the election has been the outstanding result for the Nationals, illustrated by their 22.0 per cent vote in the five seats that make up the Mining and Pastoral region – none of which they contested in 2005.

With the possibility of five or even six seats in the malapportioned upper house, the Nationals are poised to hold the balance of power in both chambers.

Leader Brendon Grylls is playing kingmaker for all he is worth, pressing for backing of his scheme to have 25 per cent of mineral royalty payments set aside for regional areas.

Labor appears to be taking these overtures seriously: Alan Carpenter and Treasurer Eric Ripper yesterday assured Grylls that money for the scheme was “available”.

However, Grylls would need to consider the political cost of crossing the traditional political divide to sustain a demoralised government fronted by a leader with little authority in his own party.

Peter Fray

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