Margin: Liberal 4.3%
Location: Southern Perth Outskirts, Western Australia
In a nutshell: Canning has been firmly in Liberal hands since 2001, but this time Labor has brought out the heavy artillery in the shape of Alannah MacTiernan, the highest profile minister in the Gallop-Carpenter government. That may have seemed an exciting career move for MacTiernan at the time, but the going for Labor in Western Australia has gotten considerably tougher since then.
Two-party vote map
Swing % map
Electorate analysis: Canning looms as one of the most interesting contests of the election following the entry of Alannah MacTiernan, who achieved the highest profile of any minister in the Gallop/Carpenter state Labor government of 2001-2008. The electorate covers Perth’s south-eastern hinterland at Kelmscott and Armadale, and extends south to coastal Mandurah and down the South Western Highway to Pinjarra and Waroona. The redistribution has removed suburban areas of Perth, with 9000 voters in Southern River, Thornlie and Huntingdale going to Hasluck and 14,000 in Canning Vale going to Tangney, while adding 11,000 voters around the town centre of Mandurah from Brand. Canning also gains the Shire of Boddington from Pearce in the south-east, substantially increasing its surface area but adding little over 900 new voters. Labor’s strength in Mandurah has brought down the Liberal margin from 5.6 per cent to 4.3 per cent.
Canning extended deep into the Wheatbelt when it was created with the enlargement of parliament in 1949, and was accordingly held by the Country Party until 1974, barring one term in Liberal hands after the 1961 election. The Country Party lost it for good at the 1974 election, which the state branch contested as the National Alliance as part of a disastrous short-lived merger with the Democratic Labor Party, and has not held a federal lower house seat in WA since. Wendy Fatin won the seat for Labor for the first time in 1983 following spectacular successive swings, of 13.0 per cent in 1980 and 9.2 per cent in 1983. The enlargement of parliament in 1984 led to the loss of Canning’s rural areas, reorienting it as a Perth outskirts seat with a slightly smaller Labor margin. Fatin moved to the new seat of Brand and Canning was won for Labor by George Gear, who went on to serve as Assistant Treasurer in the Keating government. Gear faced Liberal candidate Ricky Johnston at each of the five elections he contested, surviving by 244 votes in 1993 before Johnston finally prevailed by 968 votes in 1996.
Johnston’s long-sought victory marked the first of three consecutive elections at which the seat changed hands. She suffered her final defeat in 1998 when the seat was won by Labor’s Jane Gerick, who was in turn edged out in 2001 after an unfavourable redistribution and a slight Liberal swing. The new Liberal member was Don Randall, who had raised many an eyebrow during his one term as member for Swan after 1996. The see-saw came to a decisive halt when Randall enjoyed the biggest swing in the country in 2004, picking up 10.9 per cent on the primary vote and 9.2 per cent on two-party preferred. This was assisted in no small part by Labor’s misfortunes with its candidates. Gerick was initially given the nod to recover her old seat, but the leukaemia she was first diagnosed with a few months prior to her 2001 defeat claimed her life on Christmas Day in 2003. Gerick’s replacement, Cimlie Bowden, ended up withdrawing in acrimonious circumstances, and it fell to a reluctant Kay Hallahan, a former state government minister, to take the hit at the election. However, the seat recorded a fairly modest correction in 2007, swinging to Labor by 4.0 per cent against a state total of 2.1 per cent.
Don Randall is perhaps best remembered for telling parliament Cheryl Kernot had “the morals of an alley cat on heat” during his tenure as member for Swan, and he has underscored his loose cannon reputation in the current term by boycotting the stolen generations apology and attacking the Reserve Bank. He nonetheless won promotion to parliamentary secretary after the 2007 election, had has served in that capacity in the roads and transport portfolio since Tony Abbott became leader in December 2009. Alannah MacTiernan has built a rather more substantial resumé in state politics, serving as Planning and Infrastructure Minister throughout Labor’s period in office. In this position she became closely associated with the Perth to Mandurah rail project, the construction of which could stand her in good stead in the relevant part of the electorate. She has also spent nearly 14 years as the member for Armadale, located entirely within the metropolitan end of Canning, after entering parliament in 1993 as member for the upper house region of East Metropolitan. Polls have shown her by far the public’s favoured Labor leadership candidate since the 2008 election defeat, but she has been thwarted by her factional independence and hostility towards her among party powerbrokers, a legacy of decisions taken as minister and her attempts to reform the factional system. Nonetheless, she faces a Liberal opponent who reportedly “door-knocks more than the Mormons” and “turns up to an opening of an envelope”.
Julia Gillard made a surprise visit to Western Australia days out from election day, which was interprted as indicating Labor was slightly behind in the three key WA seats of Canning, Swan and Hasluck. John Howard was in the electorate earlier in the week to hold a fund-raiser for Don Randall.
Canning was one of four Perth electorates polled by Westpoll during the first week of the campaign, which collectively suggested the anticipated swing to the Liberals had evaporated. Alannah MacTiernan was in fact found to have a slight lead of 51-49 on two-party preferred from primary votes of 45 per cent Liberal, 44 per cent Labor and 6 per cent Greens. This was from a sample of about 400, with a margin of error of 5 per cent. The following week The West Australian reported Labor internal polling had them trailing 53-47. The JWS Research-Telereach poll conducted on the final weekend of the campaign, covering 400 respondents with a margin of error of about 5 per cent, had the Liberal lead at 54.3-45.7.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read Bowe’s blog, The Poll Bludger.