Six easy pieces

The Poll Bludger’s guide to the Western Australian election is up and running, although the tide of events might yet require that it be substantially revised. The headers and sidebar graphic assume the election will be held this year, despite it not being due until about February. Given that Alan Carpenter has repeatedly mused about the need to put the current “dysfunctional” parliament out of its misery, this seems a pretty safe bet. The conventional wisdom is that the election will be called for October after the sitting of parliament in Bunbury on September 9 is out of the way.

A greater uncertainty surrounds Troy Buswell’s tenure as Liberal leader. Buswell survived spill motions in May and June for the want of a better alternative, but his personal ratings have kept getting worse. Most importantly, Colin Barnett made his first noises of equivocation this week regarding his plans to retire, which had previously seemed set in stone. The West Australian reported yesterday that the Liberals are conducting polling to see if Barnett would make them electable, “as it is believed some Labor Party polling shows&#148. According to “informed Liberals”, Barnett might yet make a go of it if he’s shown to be in with a chance (it should be noted that this would require the sacrifice of Cottesloe candidate Deidre Willmott, leaving Liza Harvey in marginal Scarborough as the only female candidate in a notional Liberal seat).

If the standard is winning government rather than merely averting disaster, the polling would want to be good. When surveying the electoral landscape, one factor asserts itself with a force that makes all the sniffed chairs, snapped bras, lifted shirts and exposed Prince Alberts pale into insignifiance: the “one-vote one-value” redistribution (that at least is how it’s been marketed, but that’s a subject for another time). Going by the post-redistribution pendulum, you would never know that Labor was currently one seat away from minority government (at least when taking into account the three ex-Labor independents, which the pendulum doesn’t do). This is because the notional margins determined by Antony Green suggest Labor would have won 38 seats rather than 32 if the 2005 election had been held on the new boundaries. In the crude terms of uniform swings, the Liberals will need 51.4 per cent of the two-party preferred vote to be in contention for minority government (for a swing of 3.6 per cent), and as much as 2 per cent extra if they’re to go all the way.

2005 Election 24 8 2 34 8 15 23
Redistribution 32 8 2 42 6 11 17

The creation of eight new seats in the metropolitan area was always going to be good news for Labor, which holds 70 per cent of the area’s seats. Even so, it seems remarkable that all eight have found their way to the Labor column. The Liberals do have the marginal new seat of Scarborough, but elsewhere they lose Serpentine-Jarrahdale as part of an unhelpful carve-up of the outer suburbs. An appreciation of the situation can be gained by breaking the area into six pieces: two zones of Labor and one of Liberal heartland, and three where the election will be decided. These are outlined in the map below (indicated by the black lines: the blue ones are upper house region boundaries), with electorates colour-coded to indicate party margins (ranging in Labor’s case from lightest red for under 2.5 per cent to deep red for over 15 per cent).

Inland outskirts. The luck of the draw has turned two Labor and two Liberal seats into three Labor and one Liberal, but all could go either way. Liberal-held Serpentine-Jarrahdale has been divided among four notionally Labor seats, while Darling Range is mixed with abolished Kenwick in a manner that produces one highly marginal seat (Kalamunda) and one that is relatively safe for Labor (Forrestfield). The new seat of Darling Range owes more to Serpentine-Jarrahdale than the old Darling Range, emerging with a slight notional Labor margin.

Riverside and northern beaches. The all-blue strip along the western beaches now accounts for five Liberal seats instead of four, although Labor would win Scarborough in a good year. The riverside seats of Nedlands, Alfred Cove, South Perth and Bateman (formerly Murdoch) have all maintained their identity. Three of the nine seats in the riverside and northern beaches region are held by conservative independents.

Northern mortgage belt. Further north is the volatile mortgage belt, where the new coastal seat of Ocean Reef has muscled in among four existing electorates. All are Labor or notionally so (Kingsley has been left white on the map as it is essentially lineball), but most if not all are likely to shift with the next change of government – as the northern suburbs did in 1983, 1993 and 2001.

Eastern suburbs. The really good news for Labor is that there are now 15 seats in its inner suburban heartland from Girrawheen east to Midland and south to Armadale, including the new seats of Nollamara, West Swan, Cannington and Gosnells. The only cost for them is that safe-ish Yokine (margin of 8.2 per cent) has turned into marginal-ish Mount Lawley (5.8 per cent).

Southern coastal. This safe Labor strip is now accommodated by six seats instead of five, with Kwinana created from the south of Cockburn and the north of Peel (the remainder of which is now called Warnbro).

South-eastern. Southern River and Riverton are joined by Jandakot: all are Labor marginals, the margin in Southern River having been cut from 11.8 per cent to 5.1 per cent.

Then there are the cutbacks in the country, which owing to the “large district allowance” have impacted on conservative areas in the south-west (like I said, a subject for another time). The exception is the effective abolition of the vast Mining and Pastoral region seat of Murchison-Eyre (held by Labor-turned-independent John Bowler) and its replacement with Eyre, which more closely resembles the abolished Liberal-held seat of Roe as it includes Esperance and Ravensthorpe. This has involved the transfer of Esperance and Ravensthorpe from the Agricultural upper house region to Mining and Pastoral, cutting Agricultural’s enrolment from 93,886 to 82,479. Thus truncated, the Agricultural region now has four lower house seats in place of seven. As well as the disappearance of Roe, Liberal-held Moore has essentially absorbed Nationals-held Greenough, while the two Nationals seats of Merredin and Avon have merged into Central Wheatbelt.

The South West region has gone from 11 seats to eight, which can roughly be explained as Leschenault being absorbed by Murray (now Murray-Wellington), Capel being absorbed by Vasse and Collie-Wellington (now Collie-Preston), and Liberal-held Warren-Blackwood merging with Nationals-held Stirling to form Blackwood-Stirling. The remaining development to be noted is the expansion of Bunbury, Albany and Geraldton, each of which has shifted from one party column to the other. Bunbury is the largest of the three cities, such that the Liberal-held seat has been able to expand into Labor-voting southern suburbs which were previously accommodated by Capel. Albany and Geraldton on the other hand are Labor-held seats which have had to expand into surrounding conservative rural territory. However, this does not mean they are going to fall into the Liberals’ lap: Labor’s past lack of campaigning effort in the rural areas means they are stronger here than the margins suggest.

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.

21 comments on “Six easy pieces”

  1. Bunbury (Up until last election it was the bellwether seat in WA) was very close last time – 100 or so votes at the distribution of preferences if I remember rightly – so is the redistribution likely to mean it will go back to the ALP with a margin of safety?

    October does seem likely, though if the Libs do finally oust Buswell, the ALP may wait. They may want to give Barnett time to shoot himself in the foot with grand far-canal type plans.

  2. William,

    Do you reckon that the Libs have a chance with this one? Will Barnett make a difference? I know nothing about WA politics.

  3. I’m expecting the ALP to win around 2/3rds of the seats, with a high number of Libs turned Independents in the cross benches. Seriously, Buswell is poison for the WA Libs, it’s going to be a landslide.

  4. Phil,

    I think A-C means if they change leader. This might also entice some of the independents back into the fold.

    I couldn’t even see Buswell winning his own seat at this stage.

  5. What kind of strategy can Buswell have, a presidential style bad, no real team talent (or else someone else would be leader) two previous leaders (or three) not in the next parliament … perhaps they should just decline to contest the election entirely.

    I hate being this positive but can McGinty get the numbers in the upper house to kill it? And if not kill it will he get one-vote one value mark two to fix up the mess he made with the upper house?

    I guess my question is, ‘is it likely the upper house will follow a landslide victory for labor.’ Will the really low liberal vote most anticipate result in additional labor MLC’s.

    If he has the numbers McGinty would have to drastically reform it.

  6. jasmine – as far as I can guess, based on current polling, the beneficiaries in the upper house will be the Greens – they could go from 2 to as many as 6, though 4 seems more realistic, and retain balance of power.

  7. First a quick query:
    “Riverside and northern beaches. The all-blue strip along the western beaches now accounts for five Liberal seats instead of four, although Labor would win Scarborough in a good year. The riverside seats of Nedlands, Alfred Cove, South Perth and Bateman (formerly Murdoch) have all maintained their identity. Three of these seats are held by conservative independents.”
    THREE of these seats? Walker – yes, Woolard – yes, McGrath – no, I assume we will count Porter also as a no. Am I missing something or is the number only two? No arguments that these are blue-ribbon, heart-land Lib seats – in fact I keep saying here that they need to put future leaders into these seats rather than time servers.
    As for electoral prospects – I would say that as crap as the current crop are (and I am no fan of Carps) there is NO prospect of a change of government unless drastic changes occur in the Libs. Is Colin their saviour? It’d be a very big ask (and I am a fan of Barnett’s – he is not the most naturally personable person but he’s very smart) but if he’s managed well then maybe. Ok, maybe the canal wasn’t the best idea ever but water security WAS and IS a very important idea.
    Although the redistribution makes it harder for the Libs I am still broadly supportive. Oh, and MDMConnell – I couldn’t see too many of the independents coming back to the fold – or being welcomed if they tried…!!!

  8. Oh – sorry – I should clarify my previous comment. When I said I was still broadly supportive I meant I was still broadly supportive of the principle of one-vote one-value (notwithstanding it may be somewhat imperfectly applied).

  9. VPL, you are missing Elizabeth Constable – presumably because you think I just mean the riverside seats. I am in fact referring to my entire “riverside and northern beaches” region. I will reword it to clarify this point.

  10. I posted a big long thing on possible Liberal losses in the other WA thread… I did that with Buswell in mind. If they bring Barnett back it could be worth anything up to half a dozen marginal seats to them… thanks to ‘one vote one value’, there ain’t a snowball’s chance in hell they’ll win, but with him they’ll look respectable – kinda like last time (minus the canal). If Buswell’s still there, it’ll be a demolition job like Qld in 2001 or the NT in 2005. And if by some miracle it ends up being a hung parliament, the conservative independents would be fairly likely to work with Barnett – I think there was talk of Constable and Woollard being ministers if the Libs had won last time.

    Is there anyone else in the Liberal party (and not retiring) who could conceivably be the leader? Steve Thomas got put up a few months ago, but bearing in mind he’ll have a tough job getting elected in Collie-Preston they’d be crazy brave to try that. Christian Porter, perhaps, but he’s only been in parliament for a few months. Hmm…

  11. paris that is very interesting – if you are right our dear leader carps will probably find the next parliament as much trouble as this.

  12. VPL@7

    Fair enough. My impression was that Sue Walker at least resigned because of Buswell being leader- with the assumption that a new leader might make her change her mind.

  13. Bill Hassell on Stateline is trying to defeend Troy Buswell.

    This is going to end in tears for the Libs.

  14. “If they bring Barnett back it could be worth anything up to half a dozen marginal seats to them”(minus the canal)”.

    Maybe Barnett should bring back the canal idea and green it up.

    You know, all this water flowing down from the north, could hook up some power generators, solve the energy crisis caused by the gas explosion and it would be carbon free and cost free energy.

  15. WA doesn’t have a water crisis, the desal plant is providing 17% of our water needs with a second in advanced planning stages

  16. [WA doesn’t have a water crisis, the desal plant is providing 17% of our water needs with a second in advanced planning stages]

    And the “Gas Crisis” is a result of Barnett as Energy Minister in the Dickie Court govt privatising Alinta Gas, and selling the Dampier to Bunbury Pipeline 🙂

  17. Can someone please direct me to a reference for how the West Australian distribution used to be calculated? I’m assuming that now its now (sort of) one vote one value, that previously rural voters were advantaged?

    I see that want to change everything back “in the interests of democracy and representation.” Based on Family First’s apparent understanding of democracy as evidenced to date, I’m assuming the bumpkin vote was elevated to astronomical levels.

  18. William
    I am the last person to forget Liz Constable – I have huge admiration for her.
    The problem as I see it was that you prefaced your count of three with a list of seats and stated ‘three of THESE’. I took it to refer to the seats listed rather than the whole ‘Riverside and Northern Beaches’ category which I guess must include Churchlands.
    No biggie – still love your work. I guess comments on WA will now move to the Westpoll thread…???

  19. Rod @ 14

    Just cause the water is moving from North to South doesn’t mean it is moving downhill. It needs to be pumped from North to South with MASSIVE energy demands and infrastructure to support it. It is cheaper and more energy efficient to pull it out of the ocean and desalinate it than pump it so far.

  20. I thought Sue Walker quit because it was thought she would lose her preselection (though she never really had a strong control of the branches anyway)

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