Margin: Labor 8.1%
Location: Central Perth, Western Australia
In a nutshell: Covering the city’s centre and inner east, the electorate of Perth has been fairly safe for Labor since it emerged from the post-Whitlam government dark age in 1980. However, the backlash against the mining tax was severe enough to raise questions about the security of the sitting member, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith – initially at least.
Electorate analysis: The Perth metropolitan area was divided erratically between Perth and Fremantle until the enlargement of parliament in 1949, when Curtin was created and Swan drawn into the metropolitan area. It has since covered a smaller area north of the river around the city, currently extending east to Bassendean and north to Morley and Beechboro. The redistribution has effected a swap of territory with Stirling, gaining 1300 voters in Morley while losing 2700 further south at Coolbinia, while in the north its boundary has been made to conform with the Reid Highway, through a gain of 6400 voters in Noranda from Cowan and a loss of 2300 at Beechboro to Pearce.
Labor held the seat from 1901 until inaugural member James Fowler joined Billy Hughes in the Nationalist Party in 1917, and it thereafter remained in conservative hands until 1943. Tom Burke, father of Brian, henceforth held the seat until his defeat in 1955 by Liberal candidate Fred Chaney Senior, whose son would later serve as a Senator, Fraser government minister and member for the lower house seat of Pearce. Chaney was defeated in 1969 by Labor’s Joe Berinson, a junior minister in the Whitlam government and future state Attorney-General. The 1975 debacle cost Labor all its WA seats except for Fremantle, with Berinson suffering a narrow defeat at the hands of Liberal candidate Ross McLean. The Liberals were considerably boosted by the 1977 redistribution, but the seat nonetheless fell in 1983 to Australian hockey captain Ric Charlesworth.
Labor was strengthened when the 1990 redistribution extended the electorate east to Bassendean, and Stephen Smith had no trouble succeeding Charlesworth in 1993 before picking up a remarkable swing against the trend of the 1996 election. A former adviser to Paul Keating and secretary of the party’s state branch, Smith emerged as a senior figure in the Right faction and entered the shadow ministry after the 1996 election defeat, holding the education and training portfolio through Kevin Rudd’s term as Opposition Leader. Since the election of the Rudd government he has served as Foreign Minister.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read Bowe’s blog, The Poll Bludger.