Newspoll offers a very interesting result in its latest quarterly reading of state voting intention in Western Australia, with the Liberals’ two-party lead shrinking dramatically since the previous quarter from 59-41 to 53-47. Labor’s primary vote is up six points to 35%, the Liberals are down seven to 39%, the Nationals are up two to 6% after what looks like an aberration last time, and the Greens are down one to 11%.

There is further good news in the personal ratings for Mark McGowan, who took over from Eric Ripper as Labor leader on January 23. His approval ratings are 43% approval and 17% disapproval, although inevitably for a debutante there is a very high uncommitted rating of 40%. Colin Barnett is respectively down seven to 51% and up five to 33%, although these figures are similar to those he was recording in the middle of last year – it was noted at the time of the previous poll that he was probably enjoying a spike from his photo opportunities at CHOGM.

On preferred premier, McGowan is doing very much better than Ripper ever did: he trails Barnett 43-30, compared with 59-18 in Ripper’s final result from October-December last year, and his best-ever result of 56-22 at the poll before in July-September.

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With the countdown to the next election ticking away, there’s plenty happening on the preselection front:

Pilbara looms as one of the game to watch at the state election next March, with Nationals leader Brendon Grylls confirming his intention to move on from his existing party stronghold seat of Central Wheatbelt (formerly Merredin). This has not impressed Colin Barnett, who rates the move as “risky”. Labor meanwhile has secured the services of Port Hedland mayor Kelly Howlett, an environmental scientist and until recently member of the Greens. Despite opposition from “long-term Hedland resident Bob Neville”, she will presumably go untroubled at the May 21 preselection vote. It is expected that Grylls’ vacancy as Nationals candidate for Central Wheatbelt will be filled by Mia Davies, upper house member for Agricultural region. UPDATE: Beatrice Thomas of The West Australian further reports that Wendy Duncan, upper house member for Mining and Pastoral, will run in Kalgoorlie, and that local councillor Rob Sutton will run in Albany.

• Brendon Grylls’ designs on Pilbara are part of an ambitious scheme to dominate the traditionally Labor-leaning Mining and Pastoral region, which accounts for most of the state’s land mass but only a small share of its voters. After not even bothering to field candidates in the region in 2005, the Nationals won an upper house seat in 2008 with 21.4 per cent of the vote, and emerged on equal footing with the Liberals in the lower house seats. In Pilbara they ran second and slashed the two-party margin against Labor from 10.5 per cent to 3.6 per cent. They also fell a handful of votes short of overtaking the Liberals in North West, which had they succeeded would have meant victory over Labor on Liberal preferences. They later gained the seat anyway, with sitting member Vince Catania defecting to the party from Labor in July 2009, and then enjoying the good fortune of a redistribution which moved the seat to the conservative side of the electoral pendulum. The Nationals also have high hopes that Kimberley can be gained from Labor upon the retirement of Carol Martin, and there have also been suggestions that John Bowler, the Labor-turned-independent member for Kalgoorlie, might not seek another term. Bowler has become very close to the Nationals in any case, and collaborated with them during the minority government negotiations which followed the 2008 election.

• Grant Woodhams, parliamentary speaker and Nationals member for Greenough and then Moore since 2005, announced last week that he will retire at the next election.

• A raft of Labor preselections were confirmed at a state executive meeting on March 29. UnionsWA secretary Simone McGurk emerged without opposition in Fremantle after the late withdrawal of Maritime Union of Australia candidate Adrian Evans. In Belmont, the party’s assistant state secretary Cassie Rowe will succeed Eric Ripper. “United Voice” powerbroker Dave Kelly has been confirmed in Bassendean in succession to Martin Whitely, who evidently jumped before he was pushed. Reece Whitby, former Channel Seven reporter and unsuccessful candidate in 2008, was confirmed for a second run in Morley, and Bob Kucera gets another shot at Mount Lawley where he lost preselection (as member for its predecessor seat of Yokine) at the instigation of Alan Carpenter before the 2008 election. Other candidates include Kim Beazley’s daughter Hannah Beazley in Riverton, Wanneroo councillor Brett Treby in Wanneroo and Cockburn councillor Lee-Ann Smith in Jandakot.

• Joe Spagnolo of the Sunday Times reports that “Kate Lamont has emerged as a surprise late contender in the race to be the Liberal candidate for Churchlands”, where independent Liberal Liz Constable is retiring. Lamont is “a chef and author who is behind food and wine outlets, was an inaugural inductee to WA’s Women’s Hall of Fame”, and reportedly has Colin Barnett’s backing. She is seeking late consideration after the closure of nominations, the existing field consisting of “Jim Bivoltsis, Bruce Butcher, Sean L’Estrange, Andres Timmermanis and Richard Wilson”. Richard Wilson, the chief-of-staff to Energy Minister Peter Collier, was mentioned earlier as a possible starter by Peter Kerr of the Australian Financial Review – along with Tap Oil founder Paul Underwood, who appears not to have come forward.

• The ABC reports the Liberal ticket for North Metropolitan will be unchanged on the 2008 election, with incumbents Peter Collier, Michael Mischin and Liz Behjat holding the top three positions. Peter Katsambanis, who held a seat in the Victorian Legislative Council from 1996 to 2002, evidently failed in his bid to unseat Behjat.

• The Augusta-Margaret River Mail reports two Liberal members for the South West upper house region will switch places on the party ticket at the next election, with Barry House promoted to number two and Nigel Hallett down to number three. Robyn McSweeney, the Community Services and Women’s Interests Minister, will retain top place. There were suggestions Hallett might be dumped to fourth at the expense of Bunbury barrister Ian Morison or Bunbury City councillor Michelle Steck, but they will respectively fill the unwinnable fourth and sixth places with Paul Fitzpatrick at number five. Augusta-Margaret River shire president Ray Colyer withdrew after failing to secure a winnable position.

• Shelley Archer is seeking Labor preselection for the Mining and Pastoral upper house region, where she previously served from 2005 to 2009. This is despite her not having been a member of the party since she and her husband, former CFMEU state secretary Kevin Reynolds, resigned from it during the 2007 federal election campaign. The ABC has reported that Archer and Reynolds are claiming the party has been stalling on their applications for readmission to thwart Archer’s preselection bid.

• Norman Moore, Liberal upper house veteran and Mines and Fishries Minister, has confirmed his intention to retire at the next election. There were reports late last year he was about to take up the position of Agent-General to London, and that his vacancy in the Mining and Pastoral region would be filled by Mark Lewis, a Carnarvon-based public servant who was number three on the ticket in 2008.

• The ABC reports three candidates have nominated for Liberal preselection in Labor’s most marginal seat of Albany: local café owner and Chamber of Commerce president Trevor Cosh, farmer Douglas Forrest and real estate consultant John Hetherington. Late withdrawals included Sheena Prince, a school teacher and the wife of former Liberal member Kevin Prince, and Alana Lacy, an electorate officer to the late Senator Judith Adams.

• Daniel Emerson of The West Australian reports Nathan Morton and Christopher Hatton, both school teachers, emerged uncontested as the Liberal candidates for Forrestfield and Balcatta. Morton fell 98 votes short of winning Forrestfield when the seat was created at the last election. Balcatta was retained for Labor on a margin of 2.3% by John Kobelke, who recently announced he will not seek another term.

• The Joondalup Times reports the Liberals have endorsed Jan Norberger, group general manager of resources industry recruitment firm Richards Mining Services, as their candidate for Joondalup. Another candidate for the preselection was Murray McLennan, who ran unsuccessfully in Mindarie in 2008.

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Peter Fray
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