In the continued search for opportunities to create pain for the Coalition, the eye alights on the division of Canning, in Perth’s south-east. Here there’s a byelection in the offing, due to the death of Don Randall, Liberal member for the seat since 2001. Randall had gained Swan in the Howard tsunami of 1996 and lost it when Beazley won the 1998 election, only to be cheated out of it by the AEC’s shoddy boundaries.

When he won Canning in 2001, he got what many MPs do after they’ve been thrown out at the end of a single term: the determination to never lose again. Randall worked tirelessly to build a personal following. Canning had been established in 1949, at which time it was a rural seat, swapping between the Liberals and the wacky WA Nationals. In 1983 Wendy Fatin won the now-suburbanised area for Labor, and until 2001 it went back and forth. Randall turned it into a solid Liberal seat, surviving the Kevin 07 onslaught.

Well, a solid Randall seat anyway. Until 2013, he held it on a margin of around 51-48% two-party preferred. But in that election, he gained a 5% primary vote swing, and Labor lost 13%, about 7% of it to Palmer United and the rest to the Christians. The two-party preferred gave Randall a near 60-40 hold. He’d earnt it in ceaseless campaigning. The Libs had a sure thing going with that seat. Now they have a potential disaster on their hands after Randall’s fatal heart attack at age 62.

On 60-40, an 11-12% swing is required. Most pundits reckon around 6-7% of that was Randall’s alone and will shift back to Labor, unless the Libs produce an A-grade candidate. The other 5-6% is exposed to the general disappointment and dislike in which Abbott and Co. are held. The seat is well winnable, and the resulting shock would be another blow against Abbott and make a fresh leadership challenge more likely (whether that’s a good thing or no is another question, as I discussed yesterday).

But here is a chance for those who want to contribute to the demise of the Coalition to participate — and also to serve as part of a political experiment. People from the arts, for example, aren’t going to get much purchase in an arts-based campaign in Canning — the place is as echt-suburban as it gets. But they may well be able to make a difference if they were to canvass for Labor or the Greens, or as a “put the Libs last” campaign — so long as they campaign on a series of general issues and put the arts within that, but well down the list.

That’s a style of campaigning common in the United States but largely unknown here, where you campaign for a particular candidate and party, but under your own banner, not theirs. The importance of that should be obvious — you remind the winners how much they owe you, and that they might want to do right by you, if they want to see you out there next time.

Canning is directly inland from Fremantle, WA’s art/Sodom and Gomorrah central. Would it not be possible to persuade 20 such people to remove their piercings and venture inwards for a few days and weekends once the byelection is announced? To campaign with some sort of self-branding — Public Voice or Public Citizen or ArtAttack or whatever — even if under the direction of anti-Coalition parties? Doorknocking, street pamphlets, a table outside one of their arid shopping centres. Plain old-fashioned campaigning, but mobilising a wider citizenry against Abbott, rather than relying on the parties to do it alone. Given the skills available to such artists, there’s no reason not to suppose that a schmick campaign could be launched.

Of course, nothing scientific will come out of the exercise, but there’ll be enough day-to-day evidence from talking to people to gauge some sort of public reaction to a campaign like that. And if the Libs are chucked out in that seat, such a group will be able to claim some of the credit. Most importantly it would be a dry run for a wider campaign in the federal election — a citizen campaign of all the people who bitch and moan about Abbott but aren’t in a party that would organise them. An untapped resource, to mobilise against the extra spending that the Coalition can command come election time. Who would not want to be present at the creation? And, eventually, grants may be available.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey