Seat of the week: Stirling

Welcome to the first episode of a new series in which the key seats for the federal election will be put under the microscope. And what better place to start than in the Perth northern suburbs electorate of Stirling, which was home to your correspondent from the ages of two to 23. Stirling was created at the 1955 election to cater for post-war suburban expansion, and 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 semi-rural electorate of Moore, and through the creation of Cowan when parliament was enlarged in 1984. Stirling now extends from Scarborough, Trigg and North Beach on the coast through the light industrial areas of Balcatta and Osborne Park, on to low-income Balga and Mirrabooka and the more affluent Dianella nearer the city. This chart compares Labor’s two-party results since the seat’s creation with the corresponding state and national results; the figures in boxes indicate shifts resulting from redistributions.

This map shows the two-party vote by suburb at the 2004 election: red indicates a majority for Labor and blue for Liberal, with the size of the number varying as a rough indicator of the number of votes cast.

In its original incarnation, when it extended inland all the way to Guildford, Stirling was a Labor-leaning marginal held for all but one term by Harry Webb (not to be confused with this Harry Webb) from 1955 to 1972. The 1969 changes produced a 3.4 per cent shift that made the seat notionally Liberal, but Webb comfortably held the seat on the back of the 1969 pro-Whitlam swing, only to lose it in 1972 when Western Australia substantially bucked the national trend (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. Stirling has since been remarkable for its adherence to the statewide swing, as indicated by this chart showing the deviation from the state and national swing to or from Labor. The range between plus and minus 2 per cent is coloured as this is within the standard deviation for Western Australian electorates from the statewide swing; notably, Stirling has fallen within this range at every election since 1975. In other words, Stirling has been of above-average averageness for 12 elections in a row.

In line with Labor’s strong overall performance, Stirling changed hands when the Hawke government was elected in 1983, with Ron Edwards winning the seat from Ian Viner. 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 high-profile broadcaster Eoin Cameron in 1993, when WA again bucked a national pro-Labor trend. Throughout this period the coastal suburbs assumed an older and more Liberal-friendly profile, but this was counterbalanced by a series of redistributions beneficial to Labor, the most recent of which added Balga and Mirrabooka in 2001. 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, after another swing consistent with the statewide result. There were instructive variations in the swing within the electorate: a clear “doctors’ wives” effect can be discerned in the coastal suburbs, in contrast to the strong swings to the Liberals in lower income areas further inland.

The Liberals’ success came despite the embarrassing withdrawal of their candidate Paul Afkos eight months earlier, when 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 (right), real estate salesman, state party deputy director and former adviser to Amanda Vanstone and Alexander Downer. Labor suffered a slightly less dramatic embarrassment during the campaign period, when McFarlane told a talk radio caller (who proved to be Liberal activist Michelle Poor, later to run as the party’s candidate for Balcatta at the 2005 state election) that the party’s tax policy might need adjusting.

Michael Keenan has kept a fairly low profile in his first term in parliament, perhaps because his shaky hold on his seat has prompted him to tend to local matters. He faces a formidable Labor opponent in former SAS officer Peter Tinley (left), who was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2003 after serving as deputy commander of the Special Forces Task Group in Iraq. He earlier served in Afghanistan and as the operations officer when the SAS intervened during the Tampa crisis. Tinley made headlines in November when he described the Iraq war as a “strategic and moral blunder”; he was promptly approached to run by Kim Beazley, then entering his final week as Labor leader. This thwarted the ambitions of Jim Murie, an official with the Left faction Communications Electrical Plumbing Union, who withdrew his nomination shortly before the preselection vote in February.

UPDATE: Mr Q at Eagles Flying High has helpfully overlaid the above map with state electoral boundaries.

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.

108 comments on “Seat of the week: Stirling”

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  1. David Charles- actually that is the second time Newspoll have polled me. The last one was late last year I think. Most unusual to be polled twice I would have thought. David, of course I answered the interviewer’s questions objectively and dispassionately, just like you would have, oh and of course just like dovif would have.

  2. *cough* China *cough* resources boom*

    *cough* Kevins IR not very like the Accord era or before… In fact it is the Howard 97 model *cough*

    So here goes the ON NOES HERE COME THE UNIONS from Howard and the Business Associations *cough* Unions *cough*

    Union bosses dictating for the masses eh

    Hendy.. Check
    Ridout.. Check


  3. So Dovif you are talking about the very short term construction costs and impacts. By that logic major infrastructure would always and only be built in a recession. Or have I missed something. The millions to build the technical colleges in marginal govt seats, producing and duplicating states services should not be happening either by your standard? Dreadfully irresponsible?

    My understanding is that the current inflationary pressure (admittedly eased by bananas and petrol going down last quarter) is a result of insufficient investment, particularly in training and infrastructure, such that the economy reaches capacity constraints earlier than if the capacity had been appropriately expanded.

    I don’t see how companies having to compete for labor is a terrible thing. Under worstchoices it is the only possible time employees get pay rises. And note retail workers still go backwards at this time so they are in for a really rough trot in a slow-down.

    So if you are going to view this as dreadful you seem to be very uncomfortable with market forces and dreadfully uncomfortable with employees taking advantage of market forces (but I always expected worstchoices was a fully one way street).

    But as a salute to my family (all of whom live in Stirling) thinking like that will see labor romping it home in Hasluck and Stirling and God willing Canning as well.

  4. On another matter, I have met Colonel Mike Kelly, the next MP for Eden-Monaro, and heard him speak. He will be a dynamite candidate and a killer MP (puns fully intended). He is an exceptionally smart guy and tough as nails, and can speak about the Iraq debacle from extensive personal experience, unlike that great fraudulent ponce Downer, who wouldn´t know a gun from a swizzle-stick. Gary Nairn is a decent chap as Liberals go, but he can start dusting off his theodolite.

  5. on 4 corners.

    the Burke fiasco traversed both major WA parties.

    basically they are BOTH corrupt.

    Arse kicks all round are needed

  6. I have never met Brown or Hoare, although I have spoken to Hoare maybe three times on the phone. I have nothing “personal” against them. My views on them are entirely political. Brown spent (from memory) 18 years in safe seats without making so much as a passing impression on the world, even as a (very junior) minister (Hawke made sure he never got anything important). My memory of him is mainly as a self-important blowhard. He then handed his seat on to his daughter, whose qualifications to be a federal MP are, shall we say, not immediately apparent. She has had three terms to demonstrate why she is occupying a prize safe seat, has failed to do so, and now is trotting out every victimhood line she can think of to stay on her paid vacation in Canberra for another term. Greg Combet is a vastly superior candidate – and I say that even though he is in the Left and I am a supporter of (although not actually a member of) the Right.

    If the effect of “rank-and-file” preselections is to keep drones like Hoare and Irwin in safe seats, then that is an excellent argument for abolishing them. The fact is that Labor doesn´t really have a “rank and file” at all. Its branches are run by tiny cliques of factional fanatics, and are otherwise made up of pensioners, nostalgics and people with nothing better to do than go to branch meetings – which is quite an indictment on anybody. Union affiliation presents problems for Labor, to be sure, but at least the unions are real organisations that represent, however imperfectly, real people. Although, as I say, I favour primaries, which puts the power of selection in the hands of all Labor voters, I would MUCH rather have Labor candidates chosen by a junta of Bill Ludwig, Joe de Bruyn and Doug Cameron than by the “rank and file.”

    Things are, I believe, much the same in the Liberal Party, except they don´t have the ballast that the unions give Labor to stop the fanatic cliques taking over, which is why they are in fact taking over.

  7. Adam, I know quite a few people who are genuinely interested in politics and attend branch meetings, who aren’t in factional cliques or are people with nothing else in their lives. Are you saying that these people shouldn’t have a say in who the local candidate will be? Should factional organisers have most of the say? What, 10 odd people, who might not have any life outside organised (factional) politics, deciding who will be elected as a senator with all the footsoldiers who do have lives and contribute out of interest having no say?

  8. As a side note I’m a fellow Stirling resident. My experience with the current member has been mixed (and somewhat less positive than with MacFarlane before him, who was very approachable) – he seems to be buried in a quagmire of spin and minders, and one never sees him in the electorate, he’s almost invisible apart from the bus seat ads and the “Keenan Report” (anyone checked out’s expose on one article in there?). Any time I’ve enquired of his office about a matter (even just to find out what a government policy is) I’ve been left waiting months, and basically just got a non-answer from a minister with a cover note. Any of the “meet and greet” functions I’ve seen him at have been completely stage-managed from beginning to end by party minders. It’s sad, really – you’d expect better from a member sitting on just 2.0%. At this early stage I’ve already met Tinley and he seems an intelligent and dedicated person who can answer a question by himself, even if he’s somewhat to the right of myself politically. I feel almost bad supporting Labor given their woeful performance in state politics in WA, but in this seat with this candidate I would happily back this one over that one.

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