Northern exposure

Retiring Pilbara ex-Labor independent Larry Graham has more, this time an article in last Thursday’s Broome Advertiser on the state’s northernmost electorate of Kimberley. Graham, who respectively describes Labor member Carol Martin (Australia’s first female indigenous MP) and her Liberal challenger Ron "Sos" Johnston as "lovely … a warm, friendly and caring person" and "one of those northwesters who keep the place humming …. a likeable and competent candidate … the type that when you are a pollie you hope never runs against you", sees the situation in the following terms:

Carol holds the seat with a major margin of around 8.5 per cent and seats with margins that size do not often change hands, but I can tell you the ALP heavies are nervous. The ALP were hoping in the redistribution that Halls Creek would come back into the Kimberley and secure this seat for them forever. However, fate dealt them an evil blow because not only did they not get it, they lost Fitzroy Crossing from the seat and this reduced the margin by around 2.5 per cent … if both the National Party and the One Nation vote reverts to the Libs, the ALP and Lib votes get very close. What then? Back to preferences, and that is where you come in, remember it is your preference, not theirs … the most common feeling expressed to me is one of uncertainty over the Government, basically the Kimberley feels unloved, unsure and unwanted. The Derby hospital, one vote one value, tidal power, the electoral office, the living arrangements, local government issues all have bitten her and they hurt. Still it hard to see how the seat could change hands.

This was written before Colin Barnett’s announcement that the electorate would become the source for the south’s future water needs via the contentious 3700 kilometre canal project. The likely local electoral impact was indicated when Martin savaged the idea with great alacrity; it has long been known that local federal Liberal member Barry Haase is vehemently opposed to the concept, and the apparently nervous response from a "gobsmacked" Johnston might have had something to do with the Liberal state office sending a text message to all candidates advising that they were not to discuss the project.

The seat is normally safe Labor territory in any case, only ever having been held by the Liberals from 1967 to 1980. It is presumably no coincidence that 1967 was the year that the federal government pitched in to get the Ord River dam off the ground, a colossally expensive project that is now synonymous with the term "white elephant". Writing in The Australian today, new right wonk and former federal Liberal MP John Hyde (no relation to the Labor member for Perth) draws the obvious parallel between this project and Colin Barnett’s canal-dream, the key electoral difference being that the Ord River project was initiated with local development in mind whereas the canal is expressly for the benefit of those further south.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.