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. This is a superb profile! Congrats. I do hope to see more of these seat-by-seat profiles in the coming months ahead. 🙂

  2. Agreed. An excellent, comprehensive, in-depth and interesting summary and analysis of this seat. I look forward to seeing your profiles of other seats, William

  3. Excellent William. If the Labor booths which swung to the Liberals by 3-6% in 2004 swing back to Labor, then Labor should regain the seat. Looking forward to your analysis of other seats as the year progresses.

  4. Keep up the good work. I agree with the other respondents comments. Being a parochial Queenslander I am looking forward to the profiles of key Coalition seats in the Greater Brisbane metropolitan area.

  5. That is the most comprehensive analysis of a seat i have seen. Antony Green will be very proud of you, im sure.
    Speaking of Antony Green…. does anybody know if the election will be broadcast live over the internet? i will be living overseas at the time and dont want to miss it LIVE.

  6. Congrats on very nice profile.

    Interesting to see Innaloo and Yokine which I believe at state level are ALP (Please correct me if wrong)

    I think this seat can’t be called until Election day but I suspect may full to the ALP.

  7. Can I ask for one thing to be added have the correspondance state seat bountary drawn in the colour of the Party which hold it.

  8. I’ve had to put up with the sight of Michael Keenan grinning at me from a billboard outside the City West shopping centre every day for the last 4 years, blandly assuring us commuters that he is “getting on with the job”.

    Periodically it gets replaced due to defacement (throwing of paint, daubing of Nazi symbols on foreheads etc.), but after the latest attack about a month ago the poster was taken down and has yet to be replaced – just a black graffiti-daubed space remains.

    I’m viewing this as a good omen. Since I’m resident in Curtin (Julie Bishop would need to be caught engineering a terrorist atrocity to be threatened there) I think I’ll be taking more interest in neighbouring marginals.

    I notice that the strongest pro-Lib swings for 2004 were in lower-middle or working class areas like Balga and Mirrabooka. I suspect the mortgage rate campaign would have been particularly effective in these suburbs; I wonder how they’re feeling about the workplace changes, and what effect recent interest rate rises have had? While I have no proof for this statement, I suspect that Balga etc. hosts less of the fly-in fly-out resource industry workers who would have no complaints about their AWAs, given how much money they are being paid. These people could afford to set up house in more salubrious areas. Instead there might be a higher concentration of lower skilled workers employed around Perth, for whom the workplace changes have not been such good news.

    Having said that though, the employment market is so tight in Perth now that I think any worker with their head screwed on properly can get a job with a salary well above market rates, due to demand. Therefore the general negative feeling about WorkChoices expressed in opinion polls could be diluted in WA electorates like Stirling.

    PS: Could Deakin be next on the list please – my home electorate from the ages 0 to 24! To think we nearly had the pleasure of Ken Aldred’s return to the federal arena …

  9. Bmwofoz: Innaloo was a marginal seat which Labor gained in 2001, and was abolished in 2005. Yokine was a formerly marginal seat that was made reasonably safe for Labor by the 2005 redistribution. Other corresponding state seats are Carine, which is safe Liberal; Churchlands, which would normally be safe Liberal but which is held securely by independent Liz Constable; and safe Labor Balcatta and Girrawheen (which takes in part of the north-eastern corner).

  10. Yay, my electorate first up. I must admit, I always forget about the Yokine area being so marginal (with the corresponding state seat being fairly firmly Labor), and the Dianella vote really surprises me, but a superb review.

    I’d think those same areas with big swings to the Libs at the last election would also be exactly the sorts of areas where IR could work for Labor, if it’s going to work anywhere in WA.

  11. Love your work, William.

    The Queensland seats that strike me as most likely to be of interest are Herbert, Longman, Blair, Leichhardt and Capricornia. Bonner and Moreton are probably gone even if the national swing is relatively low. Dickson, Flynn and Petrie are probably safe in anything but a record-breaking result.

  12. bmwofoz, for Stirling, the map against the State seats is as follows:

    Churchlands would be safe Liberal without Liz Constable, but with her there, the conservative vote goes all to her, so much so the ALP finished ahead of them. I’d guess it would be Lib by about 12% otherwise.

  13. WooHoo, Mine first!

    As a Balcatta Lad, I too have noticed the proliferation of Michael Keenan Seat Ads.

    One has to wonder why he would be spending so much money so early.

  14. again more praise to quite a thorough profile – I hope you’re not aiming to take Antony’s job on at the abc 😛 haha

  15. Corrected. That’ll teach me to automatically trust my geography (mind you, it would be the first time I’ve made a mistake about where a particular road is in Perth in years….

  16. Since there are so many locals about, perhaps someone can offer some insight into why Gwelup has become such a Liberal stronghold. The place wasn’t too flash when I were a lad – home to a caravan park, some public housing and a swamp. I’m guessing a lot of heavily mortgaged urban infill has come along since then.

  17. William: Since everyone is begging for their pet seat to be profiled next, can I suggest you go from most marginal to least ?

    Are you interested in digital pics from any seat ? I can probably get you photos from Griffith, Bonner, Moreton, Bowman and Brisbane.. and Ryan.

  18. Quite impressive, Mr B. With Tinley on-board as the ALP candidate I’d think there’s a lot of interest on previewing this seat. Does anyone know if any of the reputable polling outfits have looked at it lately?

    If you’re looking at other seats, I’d be interested in your take on Bennelong. There’s been more punditry on it than any other seat I think, and you’ve put forwards your views on the McKew candidacy – what do you reckon?

  19. You’re pretty much spot on William.Gwelup used to be a swamp, but these days it’s been filled in and covered with McMansions (well most of it anyway). I guess it’s location west of the freeway and relatively close to the city made it a developers dream. Notably the same thing is now happening to the similar area where the old market gardens were in Stirling.

  20. William, with reference to Gwelup, not many of the Market Gardens, Soil Wholesalers or Caravan Parks remain, mostly all housing now.

    The City of Stirling has a suburb profile on Gwelup (and all suburbs)

    “There was a considerably larger percentage of households with high income levels in Gwelup than the City of Stirling in 2001 and a smaller share of low income households. This is indicative of the exclusivity of the area and its attractiveness to affluent households, as well as a reflection of factors such as lower unemployment rates and a greater share of persons with a bachelor degree.”

  21. I agree this is excellent coverage for stirling
    could the 2pp for stirling be listed based on state results
    If possible the overlay of state map for federal seat should be included
    for future marginal seat coverage

  22. Excellent reading William. I live in the Coalition’s most marginal seat: Kingston in southern Adelaide. A profile on it would be excellent.


  23. congrats for this. Excellent work Mr Bludger. polls apart from other people!!

    My feeling is Mr Tinley is the non-politician people are looking for. A good candidate who speaks well and directly.

  24. I believe he has luck on his side though Fulvio. Werriwa’d we be without William? He’s usually the one makin whoopee with the puns. Hey that’s a long bow man!!

  25. While we are putting in wish-lists – and that is fantastic, if WA is to get another excellent profile could it be Canning which is probably very safe Lib, rather than Hasluck which almost certainly should fall (unless Rudd Lathams) or Kalgoorlie which is less safe than Canning.

    To my mind Canning has an interesting demographic mix and Labor had a candidate issue as well as a Latham issue last time.

  26. I also thank you William for an excellent summary.
    I second the Speaker’s motion that the reviews go in order of marginality – making my home of Swan due pretty soon – just after Kingston and Hindmarsh!
    I agree that Michael Keenan will struggle to hang on. The seat was always a tough prospect, Michael hasn’t exactly out-performed and will know that he’ll have to put in the hard yards to hold the seat. This campaign will be a long and hard one.

  27. LNumber of ways this can be done

    1 In order of Margin
    2 Alphabetical order
    3 Go from state to state in Clockwise picking a different seat
    4 Random by pulling a name out of a hat
    5 A seat that has made the headlines that week
    6 A seat that either Rudd or Howard have visited in the previous week

  28. Im still waiting for that to happen Michael. Kingston has been a very inactive branch for many years and its only recently that the active members have grown.

  29. In Kingston we could run a website easy on all the issues here. If the Party cant afford it ill look into doing it myself for the branch

  30. Two things:

    As far as what seats William should do next, I reckon it’s a good idea to rotate between the states (although each state has different numbers of marginals, so this can’t be a hard and fast rule) but I mean really William, you should do whatever seats you want to, as I’m sure you’ll do.

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