Margin: Liberal 1.2%
Location: Perth Northern Suburbs, Western Australia
In a nutshell: Combining Liberal-leaning coastal suburbs with Perth’s least glamorous territory around Balga and Mirrabooka, this highly marginal seat has changed hands seven times in three decades. Shadow Customs Minister Michael Keenan nabbed the seat for the Liberals on the back of the 2004 Mark Latham backlash, and just managed to hold back the tide in 2007.
Two-party vote map
Swing % map
Electorate analysis: The perenially marginal Perth northern suburbs seat of Stirling was created at the 1955 election to cater for post-war suburban expansion. Originally extending all the way inland to Guildford, it assumed roughly assumed its current dimensions following a redistribution in 1969. Subsequent growth in Perth’s northern corridor has been accommodated by drawing in the once rural electorate of Moore, and through the creation of Cowan when parliament was enlarged in 1984. Stirling currently extends from northern Scarborough to North Beach along the coast, and inland through light industrial Balcatta and Osborne Park to low-income Balga and Mirrabooka in the north and more affluent Dianella and Yokine nearer the city. A number of minor adjustments have been made in the redistribution. In the north 1000 voters are gained in Watermans Bay, smoothing off what had previously been a southern coastal salient of Moore. In the south-east it gains Joondanna from Curtin (over 3000 voters) and Coolbinia from Perth (2700 voters). Counter-balancing these changes are transfers of nearly 7000 voters at southern Scarborough to Curtin and 1300 at western Morley to Perth. The areas gained and lost lean towards the Liberals in similar degree, such that the effect is a negligible 0.1 per cent reduction in the margin.
Stirling was held by Labor’s Harry Webb for all but one term from its creation until 1972. The 1969 swing allowed Webb to retain a seat which had been made notionally Liberal by redistribution, but he was defeated when Western Australia bucked the national trend in 1972 (another Labor casualty being Forrest). Ian Viner held the seat for the Liberals from 1972 until 1983, surviving by 12 votes in 1974 and going on to serve as Aboriginal Affairs Minister in the Fraser government. It again changed hands with the election of the Hawke government in 1983, when Viner was defeated by Labor’s Ron Edwards. Despite an unfavourable redistribution in 1984, Edwards held the seat by narrow margins at the next three elections, surviving by just 234 votes in 1990. He finally lost to prominent radio broadcaster Eoin Cameron when WA again bucked a national pro-Labor trend in 1993. Throughout this period the coastal suburbs assumed an older and more Liberal-friendly profile, but this was counterbalanced by a redistribution before the 1998 election which removed northern coastal Waterman, Marmion and Sorrento. Labor was thus able to regain the seat in 1998, when Cameron was defeated by Jann McFarlane.
Stirling changed hands for the third time in five elections in 2004, following another swing consistent with the statewide result. There were instructive variations in the swing within the electorate, with slight swings to Labor near the coast overwhelmed by a strong move to the Liberals further inland. The Liberals’ success came despite the embarrassing withdrawal of their candidate Paul Afkos eight months earlier, after it emerged he had borrowed $300,000 from a man he knew to be a convicted drug trafficker. Afkos stood aside and was replaced by Michael Keenan, a real estate salesman, deputy director of the state party and former adviser to Amanda Vanstone and Alexander Downer. Keenan faced a strong opponent at the 2007 election in former SAS officer Peter Tinley, who was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2003 for his service in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the electorate stubbornly refused to budge, recording a gentle 0.8 per cent swing to Labor that compared with a statewide swing of 2.1 per cent. Tinley went on to enter state politics at the November 2009 by-election for Willagee, held to replace former Premier Alan Carpenter.
Michael Keenan was elevated to the front bench after the election, assuming the positions of Shadow Assistant Treasurer and Shadow Minister for Superannuation and Corporate Governance. He was subsequently associated with a new faction forming around Malcolm Turnbull, which seems to have been borne out by his career trajectory since. On Turnbull’s elevation to the leadership he was promoted to the significant employment and workplace relations portfolio, but the change to Tony Abbott brought him back down a peg to justice and customs. Sharri Markson of the Sunday Telegraph reported in April 2009 that Keenan was among those unfortunately dubbed the “big swinging dicks” who were said to have agitated for the removal of Julie Bishop as deputy leader, a grouping also said to have included Christopher Pyne, Steven Ciobo, Greg Hunt, Peter Dutton, Jamie Briggs and Scott Morrison.
Labor’s candidate at the coming election is Louise Durack, executive director of People With Disabilities WA and unsuccessful candidate for Ocean Reef at the 2008 state election. Durack won preselection with the backing of the party’s national executive ahead of television presenter Janet Pettigrew, said to have been the favourite among local party branches, and WA Aids Council official Cipri Martinez. Robert Taylor of The West Australian had earlier tipped the nomination would go to Karen Brown, chief-of-staff to state Opposition Leader Eric Ripper and unsuccessful state election candidate for Mount Lawley.
Stirling was one of four Perth marginals covered by a Galaxy survey of 800 respondents in the second last week of the campaign, and it showed a 2.1 per cent swing against Labor across the four. The JWS Research-Telereach poll conducted during the final weekend of the campaign, covering 400 respondents in the electorate with a margin of error of about 5 per cent, had the Liberals leading 52.6-47.4.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read Bowe’s blog, The Poll Bludger.