Margin: Liberal 13.4%
Location: Perth Western Suburbs, Western Australia
In a nutshell: Curtin might take the name of a Labor icon (who lived in the area of the electorate during his prime ministership), but it covers the most desirable and solidly conservative real estate in Perth. Previous member Alan Rocher held it as an independent for a term after losing his Liberal preselection at the 1996 election, but deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop has had a lock on the seat since she defeated him in 1998.
Electorate analysis: Curtin was created with the expansion of parliament in 1949, initially covering inner suburbs west of the city before extending to the coast in 1955. It currently extends along the coast from Mosman Park north to southern Scarborough, along the north shore of the Swan River through the prestige suburbs of Peppermint Grove and Dalkeith to West Perth, and inland to Mount Hawthorn. The redistribution has effected an exchange of territory with its northern neighbour Stirling, from which is gains nearly 7000 voters in Scarborough while losing 3000 voters further inland at Joondanna. The changes have had little impact on the Liberal margin, which is down 0.2 per cent.
Despite bearing the name of a Labor Party legend, Curtin has been a blue-ribbon Liberal seat since its creation, being held first by prime ministerial contender and future Governor-General Paul Hasluck, and then by McMahon and Fraser government minister Victor Garland. The latter’s resignation in early 1981 led to a preselection brawl in which then-Premier Sir Charles Court marshaled forces behind Allan Rocher to thwart Fred Chaney’s bid to move from the Senate to the House (eventually realised when he became member for Pearce in 1990). Rocher was defeated for preselection ahead of the 1996 election by Ken Court, son of the aforementioned Charles and brother of then-Premier Richard. This greatly displeased newly reinstalled Liberal leader John Howard, who did little to assist Ken Court’s election campaign or to dispel the conception that he owed his preselection to unpopular party powerbroker Noel Crichton-Browne. Rocher was thus able to easily retain his seat as an independent on Labor preferences (a similar story was playing out in the northern suburbs seat of Moore).
The seat returned to the Liberal fold in 1998, when Rocher was defeated by Julie Bishop. Bishop’s early career progress was reckoned to have been constrained by her ties to Peter Costello, and in the wake of the Coalition’s 2001 state election defeat she signed on to an abortive scheme to move into state politics to assume the leadership from Richard Court. Serious promotion eventually came with her elevation to Ageing Minister in 2003, and she moved further up the ladder to Education, Science and Training Minister in January 2006. Reflecting the continuing strong performance of the Western Australian branch of the party, she was elevated to the deputy leadership in the wake of the 2007 election defeat, and her success in maintaining that position under three leaders has reportedly led internal critics to dub her “the cockroach”. She did however suffer the indignity of having to relinquish the Shadow Treasurer in January 2009 due to dissatisfaction with her performance, and there were reports a few months later that a band of opponents within the state Liberal Party who somehow acquired the identity of “the big swinging dicks” were plotting her removal from the deputy leadership. One of the instigators was said to be Senator Matthias Cormann, who was motivated by a desire to succeed her as member for Curtin.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read Bowe’s blog, The Poll Bludger.