Having lost the 2008 WA election former Premier Alan Carpenter last week announced he was departing the political scene and riding off into the sunset, no doubt to repent at leisure over he and his staff’s blunders of just twelve months ago.

Carps told the Fremantle Herald he “didn’t lie” when he told the media he’d see out his term, saying “sometimes couples get divorced — it doesn’t mean they lied in their vows, stuff just changed”. Well Alan, that’s true. When you lie to your partner you often end up getting divorced.

The subsequent by-election triggered in the usually safe Labor seat will be a test for Opposition Leader Eric Ripper and the WA ALP. Carpenter was elected on primaries in 2008 with 51% of the vote, but with the Liberal Party unlikely to run a candidate and the Greens polling 18% at the last election there remains the chance of a Fremantle-style boilover.

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Willagee, however, is a very different electorate to Fremantle. While the two seats border each other, Willagee retains a far more working-class, “traditional Labor” edge than the arts-and-chardonnay upper-middle-class aura of the Greens’ latest conquest. And the latest Westpoll has, for the first time, shown the Barnett government falling below 50% of the primary vote. Perhaps signs of the honeymoon fading for the Liberal administration.

Former SAS deputy CO Peter Tinley must start favourite for Labor preselection. Tinley, a Kim Beazley recruit, was the ALP’s candidate in the 2007 Federal election against Michael Keenan in Stirling, and while he achieved a pro-Labor swing it was only half the 2.1% required.

Tinley had a nice run in the West this week, complete with grinning family shot and puff piece, and would be an instant contender for a frontbench slot if he made it over the hump.

Also standing in the red corner so far is environmental activist Graham McEwen. SDA aligned, McEwen has been previously notable only for his opposition to the Roe Highway and looks desperately out-gunned here.

The real fun in this by-election comes with the Greens candidate. Gerry Georgatos, preselected just under a year ago, has withdrawn his candidacy and re-nominated to spark another contest. Georgatos, who is General Manager of the Murdoch University Guild and the head of Students without Borders, says it’s “not democratic” for him to take advantage of his earlier preselection.

Georgatos, humourously enough, wants indigenous education to be a core unit in ALL courses at Murdoch. Want to study veterinary science? Then you’ll need to know about the Nyoongars. Want to study geology? Better pass a test on saving the Burrup rock art.

WA elections analyst Harry Phillips says the Greens are in with a chance, and that the ALP will have a “tough battle” to retain the seat. While this is true enough, it would also require a significant number of the 31% of Willagee voters who voted Liberal last time around to back the Greens, sending them from 18% to at least 45% of the primary vote in one swoop.

With a good candidate likely and a safe seat to defend, it looks as if Carpenter’s last legacy to WA Labor should be a comfortable win. But then again, that’s what everyone said last time.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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