After four weeks of indecision, the Poll Bludger has finally accepted that the picture is not about to suddenly get any clearer and that there is no merit in further delaying seat-by-seat predictions for the Western Australian election guide. I am tipping the Liberals to gain Albany and Bunbury from Labor and Roe from the Nationals, and to recover South Perth from retiring independent Phillip Pendal; and for Labor to recover Central Kimberley-Pilbara from retiring independent Larry Graham. That means 31 seats for Labor, 20 for the Liberals, four for the Nationals, two conservative independents and four more glorious years for Geoff Gallop’s Labor government.
The picture is far from clear, but there does seem to be a vague consensus among those most likely to know that the Coalition will fall short. The Poll Bludger understands that the Liberals consider Swan Hills a 50-50 proposition, which is bad news for them as it is a seat they definitely need to win. Labor won it in 2001 after trailing by 6.0 per cent on the primary vote thanks to preferences from One Nation voters, who were assumed to be set to return to the Liberals this time around. Labor’s competitiveness here suggests they will hold all their other metropolitan marginals, where they did not depend on preferences. Each has its own local variables in play – Mindarie is a new seat in which Labor will not enjoy the benefit of a sitting member, and local roads issues are working against them in Joondalup and Riverton. The outer northern suburbs is emerging as the key metropolitan battleground – home to Mindarie, Joondalup and Labor’s other suburban marginal, Wanneroo, as well as the Liberal seat of Kingsley where long-term member Cheryl Edwardes will take her personal vote into retirement (unless it transfers to her husband Colin, who is the Liberal candidate).
Outside Perth are a number of seats which might have been rated as Liberal gains if the campaign had not been dominated by the canal, which has little to offer voters in Geraldton, Murray, Collie-Wellington, North West Coastal and Kimberley. However, it remains conventional wisdom that the Liberals are likely to recover Albany and Bunbury. Bunbury is being put down to demographic change and the popularity of the Liberal candidate, local mayor John Castrilli; in Albany, the Coalition was damaged in 2001 by the mortgage broking scandal, which affected many locals and embroiled the defeated Liberal member, whereas Labor must now contend with the Devaugh collapse.
I am calculating that the National Party has damaged itself by cutting a preference deal with the Greens, in much the same way as the Democrats did through the deal with Family First at the federal election. Three seats that might have been called as gains from the Liberals – Greenough, Vasse and Moore – will instead stay in the blue column, and I have been fortified in my existing conviction that the Liberals will win Roe with the retirement of Nationals member Ross Ainsworth. The Greens by contrast have done splendidly out of the deal, which makes life easier for Paul Llewellyn in South West and puts Dee Margetts right back into contention in Agricultural.
It must be emphasised here that I have never been less confident in tipping an election outcome. Writing in The West Australian on February 12, amateur psephological website enthusiast Paul Murray hit the nail on the head when he wished "good luck to any commentator willing to pick the result with the wild card of Colin’s Canal", which had blurred "the previously evident points of comparison between Geoff Gallop and Colin Barnett". The Coalition, thought to be falling short in the suburbs but headed for big gains in the regions, has chosen to place all its bets on the sort of city-centric exercise that brought Jeff Kennett to grief; while Labor, damned for its profligacy and tax-raising, trails $730 million to $2021.2 million in the "spend-o-meter" tabulated last week by noted government mouthpiece the Sunday Times. The Poll Bludger accordingly reserves his right to make wholesale changes to his forecast between now and next Saturday.