After a campaign notable for the spirited fight Labor has put up against the odds, all indications remain that Colin Barnett will be comfortably returned in tomorrow’s Western Australian state election.
The campaign has been light on for published polls, but the two that have emerged so far painted the same grim picture for Labor on voting intention (the Liberals and Nationals leading 57-43 according to Newspoll at the start of the campaign, and 56-44 according to Galaxy in the middle), while offering a consolation prize of strong personal ratings for Labor leader Mark McGowan.
Reports suggest internal polling had Labor limiting the swing against it to about 3% mid-campaign, pointing to an overall result of around 55-45, but Liberal advertising together with Treasury’s high price tag on Metronet were said to have pushed it out to 4% or 5% by last weekend.
Despite a bumpy final week for the Liberals, who have seemed strangely rattled by Labor’s line that Barnett will hand the reins over to Treasurer Troy Buswell (who in 2008 admitted to sniffing a female staffer’s chair), there is not much reason to think Labor’s position will have more than incrementally improved.
In the metropolitan area, Labor has four seats that are likely to fall on a uniform swing of 4% (Forrestfield, Morley, Balcatta and Joondalup) and another two that are likely to go with 5% (West Swan and Gosnells). While Labor has cause for optimism about Morley, where there will be no repeat of the punishment it received in 2008 from a Labor-turned-independent incumbent who directed preferences to the Liberals, concerns are held for the safer seat of Belmont, to be vacated by former leader Eric Ripper, where the margin is 6.7%.
Conversely, Labor is likely to recover Fremantle after the unhappy experience of Greens-turned-independent byelection winner Adele Carles. The party is also vaguely hopeful that its 2008 defeat in inner-suburban Mount Lawley will prove to have been a one-off, and that the government’s woes with broken public transport commitments will allow it to swim against the tide in outer suburban Swan Hills.
“Assuming Labor fails to achieve the improbable, the key point of electoral arithmetic will be the relative balance of Liberals and Nationals.”
Applying uniform swings goes a fairly long way in the metropolitan area, but it’s a very different story in the regions, where every contest has a life of its own. Labor holds the state’s two northernmost seats of Kimberley and Pilbara on margins of 6.8% and 7.2%, but the retirement of sitting members and the strength of the Nationals challenge means both seem likely to fall. Pilbara is a particularly significant contest, as Nationals leader Brendon Grylls is taking the seat on as he seeks to expand his insurgent party’s empire and maintain its balance-of-power position against a rising Liberal tide.
At the opposite end of the state are the only other two genuinely regional Labor seats, Albany and Collie-Preston, which have slender margins (0.2% and 3.8%) but famously popular sitting members.
The election is likely to follow the example of Victoria in 2010 in returning no minor party or independent members to the lower house. Two of the three sitting independents are retiring, and a third seems all but certain to lose her seat. That amounts to two metropolitan gains for the Liberals and a third — Kalgoorlie — to be fought over by the Nationals and Liberals.
Assuming Labor fails to achieve the improbable, the key point of electoral arithmetic will be the relative balance of Liberals and Nationals. Further complicating the picture are one seat where the Liberals are thought a chance of unseating an incumbent National (Terry Redman in Warren-Blackwood), and another where the Nationals are hopeful of knocking off a Liberal (Graham Jacobs in Eyre).
Out of a chamber of 59 members, my best guess is that Labor will suffer a net loss of about four or five of its existing 26 seats, while the Nationals appear on course for seven or eight. That makes it touch-and-go as to whether the Liberals get to 30 seats and a majority in their own right. The Nationals are all but certain to retain the balance of power in the upper house, where the chief points of interest are the performance of the Greens and a bid by one-time Nationals leader Max Trenorden to retain his seat as an independent.
The Greens’ recent backward trend looks set to continue, although it’s unclear for the loss of how many of its four upper house seats. The party’s highest-profile member, Giz Watson, is making a brave bid to win a regional seat in South West after 16 years as a member for North Metropolitan region. As the party failed to win a seat there in 2008 and its position is showing every sign of having deteriorated since, it will be a remarkable feat if she can pull it off.