Labor candidate for Burt Matt Keogh, joined by Opposition infrastructure spokesman Anthony Albanese
Labor candidate for Burt Matt Keogh, joined by Opposition infrastructure spokesman Anthony Albanese

The carbon footprint of the eight-week federal election campaign could get even deeper in its closing stages, as the distant state of Western Australia assumes an ever larger place in Labor’s calculations.

Bill Shorten and his retinue have endured the four-hour flight over the Nullarbor on three occasions so far, and local reports suggest that may not be the end of it.

Labor’s hope is that a turbo-charged recovery from their miserably low base in the state could yet cover anticipated shortfalls in targeted seats in Sydney and Brisbane.

Labor hasn’t done consistently good business in Western Australia since the 1980s, when the state experienced the short-lived euphoria of the America’s Cup under the leadership of Bob Hawke and Brian Burke — a party that decisively ended at the close of the decade, amid the interrelated state government financial scandals known as WA Inc.

Since that time, Labor has only performed creditably at federal level when local hero Kim Beazley led the party in 1998 and 2001; managed only two fairly unconvincing state election victories, in 2001 and 2005; only once exceeded 40% on the primary vote, at the state election in 2005; and plumbed depths no major party has plumbed before when the state’s Senate election had to be re-run in April 2014, recording just 21.5% of the vote.

Having reached what must surely have been rock bottom, the question now is how far Labor will bounce back, to which the answer is very far from clear.

On a conservative reading of the situation, four seats are at stake, each located in Perth’s suburbs and outskirts.

The lowest fruits on the tree are two slices of middle suburbia: Cowan in the city’s north, which is held for the Liberals by Luke Simpkins, and Burt in the south, which has been newly created in a redistribution that has boosted the state’s representation from 15 seats to 16.

Simpkins is a former federal and military police officer whose parliamentary tenure was, until February last year, noted mostly for his stances against Islamic terrorism and halal food.

He then came briefly to national prominence by spearheading the first spill motion against Tony Abbott — a counter-intuitive move from an ideological perspective, but all too explicable in terms of his delicate electoral position.

Simpkins built up a 7.5% margin after gaining Cowan for the Liberals against the national trend in 2007, but he had to reckon with the knowledge that Labor had held it more often than not historically, together with the uncertainty of a looming redistribution — which, it transpired, sliced his margin by 3%.

Burt has a fairly solid notional Liberal margin of 6.1%, but Labor has had something of a head start in that its candidate, Matt Keogh, introduced himself to voters at the southern end of the electorate when he ran unsuccessfully in the Canning byelection last September.

Keogh performed strongly in the part of the electorate that now forms the southern end of Burt, particularly around Armadale — an unglamorous area at the best of times, which has been hit particularly hard by the state’s downturn in the aftermath of the mining boom.

Polls have emerged during the campaign showing both Cowan and Burt going down to the wire.

The next two most obtainable seats for Labor were always assumed to be Swan in the city’s inner east and Hasluck further afield, both of which have been won by Labor in the fairly recent past, despite their post-redistribution margins of 7.3% and 6.0%.

A ReachTEL poll for the Seven Network on Friday gave the Liberals the edge in Hasluck, but the delicate state of the race in Swan was illustrated when both leaders singled it out for special attention during their visits to Perth last week, together with Cowan.

Furthermore, suggestions have emerged over recent days that the Liberals are facing an additional threat from an unanticipated quarter.

The electorate of Pearce encompasses Perth’s northern and eastern fringes, and is held for the Liberals by Christian Porter, who has rapidly confirmed his rising star status by winning promotion to cabinet in his debut federal term.

The Liberals have held Pearce since it was created in 1990, but the outer suburbia that provides much of its voters is uniquely treacherous terrain, being dominated by young families with weak or non-existent party loyalties.

In particular, Pearce encompasses the outer suburban centre of Ellenbrook, which has emerged from green fields over the past two decades to soak up Perth’s rapid population growth.

Colin Barnett’s state government has twice roused the fury of Ellenbrook voters over public transport issues — first with an abandoned election promise to service the suburb with a rail line spur, then through a failure to deliver on funding for a rapid bus transit service that was proposed in its place.

Any effort by Porter to palm this off as a responsibility of the state government is complicated by the fact that he was long one of that government’s most senior figures.

Porter served as both Treasurer and Attorney-General during the government’s first term, and with Colin Barnett now tottering, few doubt that the premiership would now be his for the taking if he had not made the move to federal politics instead.

According to sources cited by Laurie Oakes on the weekend, Labor polling has turned up a swing in Pearce almost exactly equal to Porter’s post-redistribution margin of 9.3%.

If that’s the case, no fewer than five out of Western Australia’s 16 seats look to be up for grabs — and Labor could just as plausibly win all of them or none of them.

*For more from Crikey‘s William Bowe, visit The Poll Bludger