Margin: Liberal 10.3%
Location: Perth Southern Suburbs, Western Australia
In a nutshell: Tangney has been safe for the Liberals since the 1984 redistribution detached the Labor-voting coastal area around Rockingham to the new seat of Brand, leaving it with affluent areas on the Swan and Canning foreshores. It has been held since 2004 by Dennis Jensen, who has chiefly been noted as a climate change skeptic and a man who has had trouble retaining preselection.
Electorate analysis: When created in 1974, Tangney covered a broad swathe of Perth’s south-east from the industrial coastal area of Kwinana to the outer south-eastern centre of Gosnells. The former area was transferred to the new electorate of Brand when parliament was enlarged in 1984, which turned Tangney into a safe Liberal seat. The recent distribution has seen the electorate absorb 14,000 new voters at Canning Vale in the south-east of the electorate, previously in Canning, which has been partly counter-balanced by the loss of 9000 voters in Fernwood, Lynwood and Langford to Swan. Labor’s strength in the latter area has been such that the Liberal margin has increased from 8.7 per cent to 10.3 per cent.
Before the decisive changes in 1984, Tangney had twice been won by Labor: in 1974 by John Dawkins (who was defeated in 1975 and returned as member for Fremantle in 1977, going on to serve as Treasurer in the Keating government), and in 1983 by George Gear, who relocated to Canning in 1984. Howard government Attorney-General Daryl Williams assumed the seat in 1993 on the retirement of Peter Shack, the Andrew Peacock ally and hapless Shadow Health Minister who held it from 1977 to 1983 and again after 1984. Williams retired in 2004 and was replaced by Dennis Jensen, a former defence analyst and CSIRO research scientist. Jensen has since made a name for himself as a climate change skeptic, emerging as one of the Liberal Party’s most vocal opponents of the government’s emissions trading scheme legislation, and joining O’Connor MP Wilson Tuckey in moving a spill motion against Malcolm Turnbull in November 2009. He also boycotted parliament on the day of the stolen generation apology.
Dennis Jensen has survived defeat in local party preselection ballots on both the occasions he has been up for re-election. His defeat before the 2007 election by Matt Brown, a former chief-of-staff to Defence Minister Robert Hill, was overturned by the party’s state executive with the backing of John Howard. It soon emerged after the election that the threat to Jensen had not gone away. As the local ballot loomed, three branches said to be controlled by the Matt Brown forces were inundated with membership applications from worshippers from a local mosque, who were believed – certainly by the anti-Jensen camp – to be enthusiasts for the incumbent. A compromise reached at the state executive saw admission granted to half the applicants, who could reportedly thank Julie Bishop for arguing the episode was worrying eastern states MPs whose electorates contained big Muslim populations. Brown did not emerge as a contender for the ensuing preselection, but Jensen was defeated by a new challenger, Toyota finance manager Glenn Piggott. The West Australian reported Piggott won on the first round with the support of 20 branch delegates against 10 for Jensen and eight for Alcoa government relations manager Libby Lyons. The result was again overturned, this time by the party’s state council, which reportedly backed Jensen by a margin of no less than 76 votes to five. The decision was said to have been motivated by concern at the loss of Jensen’s fundraising capacities and his potential to retain the seat as an independent.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read Bowe’s blog, The Poll Bludger.