Margin: Labor 0.3%*
Location: Inner Southern Perth, Western Australia
* Liberal seat made notionally Labor by redistribution
In a nutshell: With affluent riverside suburbs in the west balancing safe Labor areas in the east, electorates don’t come much more exciting than Swan, which Labor retained by 114 votes in 2004 and lost by 164 votes in 2007. The mining tax controversy suggested it was unlikely to be quite so close this time around, but the leadership change and ensuing policy adjustments may have made things interesting again.
Two-party vote map
Swing % map
Electorate analysis: Swan is one of the two Western Australian seats which bucked the national trend by going from Labor to Liberal at the 2007 election, the other being Cowan. It took only a 0.2 per cent swing to make the difference, with Labor winning by 114 votes in 2004 and Liberal winning by 164 in 2007. The electorate is bounded to the north by the Swan River and to the west and south by the Canning River, extending from South Perth and Como north-eastwards through Victoria Park to Belmont, and eastwards through Bentley to Cannington.
There is a sharp electoral distinction in Swan between the affluent and strongly Liberal-voting west of the electorate, and its lower-income, Labor-voting east. This is reflected in the corresponding state seats of South Perth and Victoria Park, which are respectively safe Liberal and safe Labor. The redistribution has added Fernwood, Lynwood and Langford south of the Canning River, which is a Labor-leaning area despite having previously been in safe Liberal Tangney. This has shifted the margin 0.7 per cent in Labor’s favour, resulting in a notional Labor margin of 0.3 per cent.
Swan in its present form is unrecognisable as the seat that was created at federation, which covered the state’s non-metropolitan south-west. It was drawn into the metropolitan area when parliament was enlarged in 1949, at which point it continued to cover the eastern suburbs as far north as Midland, and has since shrunk westwards into the area defined by the rivers. The inaugural member for Swan was John Forrest, explorer, colonial Premier, federation founding father and senior minister in early non-Labor governnments. Labor first won the seat when Forrest died in 1918, but it fell to the Country Party soon afterwards and for the next half-century was won by Labor only in 1943 and 1954. Adrian Bennett won the seat for Labor in 1969 and held it until his defeat in 1975 by Liberal candidate John Martyr, who in turn lost the seat in 1980.
Labor’s new member was 32-year-old Kim Beazley Jr, future party leader and son of the Whitlam government Education Minister and long-serving Fremantle MP Kim Beazley Sr. Beazley strengthened his hold on the seat with consecutive swings of 8.1 per cent and 8.6 per cent in 1980 and 1983. The subsequent loss of the inner eastern area around Bassendean to Perth in 1984 cut 4.1 per cent from the margin, which was further whittled away by sharp swings in 1984 and 1990. By now a senior minister, Beazley began casting around for a safer seat after surviving the 1993 election by 294 votes. A safety hatch opened when Wendy Fatin retired in the somewhat safer seat of Brand at the 1996 election, which Beazley was nonetheless able to retain by just 387 votes.
Swan meanwhile fell to Liberal candidate Don Randall, who was tipped out by a 6.4 per cent swing in 1998 before returning in 2001 as the member for Canning. The new Labor member for Swan was former farmer and prison officer Kim Wilkie, who had his margin whittled to almost nothing over the next two elections. He was considerably assisted in 2004 by the troubles of Liberal candidate Andrew Murfin, who was hit by revelations his campaign office had written a bogus letter to local newspapers in the name of an elderly local Salvation Army member. That the seat bucked the swing at the 2007 election can presumably be put down a correction following the Liberals’ under-performance in 2004.
The victorious Liberal candidate was Steve Irons, proprietor of an air-conditioning business and former league footballer. Irons was one of the minority of Western Australian Liberal MPs who did not cause trouble for Malcolm Turnbull – he spoke in the party room in favour of supporting emissions trading scheme legislation, and was believed to have backed Turnbull over Abbott in December 2009 leadership vote. He gained publicity at the time of the Prime Minister’s apology to victims of abuse in church or state care in November 2009, having himself been a state ward in Victoria as a child.
Labor’s candidate for the coming election is Tim Hammond, formerly a lawyer for Slater & Gordon who won preselection without opposition. State Labor MPs John Quigley and Ben Wyatt claimed in July 2009 that former WA Police Union president Mike Dean had expressed an interest in the seat, but he instead joined the Liberal Party and was spoken of as its possible candidate for Hasluck.
In the second week of the campaign Labor promised to provide $480 million of $600 million sought by the Western Australian government to improve roads around Perth Airport, which will include widening Tonkin Highway to a six-lane freeway. There was also an as-yet-uncosted promise to provide funding to an upgrade of 4 kilometres of Great Eastern Highway.
Swan 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. However, the result for Swan individually had the Liberals leading 52-48, from primary votes of 47 per cent Liberal, 37 per cent Labor and 10 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 it at 50-50. In the second last week of the campaign Swan was one of four Perth marginals covered by a Galaxy survey of 800 respondents, 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 52.3-47.7.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read Bowe’s blog, The Poll Bludger.