With the Olympics out of the way and less than a fortnight to go until polling day, the Western Australian election campaign is on in earnest. The official Liberal campaign launch was held on Sunday footage of Colin Barnett’s speech can be viewed here, but it doesn’t convey the highly Americanised razzamatazz that dominated the vision on the television news. The Liberals finally have their first television ads in business: this remarkably drab positive effort, and a rather more innovative negative one. There have also been two further additions to the party’s roster of radio advertising, both dealing with law and order, making for six negative ads out of six. Labor’s campaign has gotten equally grim after a sunny start.
On Monday night came the low-rating televised leaders debate, hosted by Channel Nine, in which 30 of the 50 audience members drove the worm and delivered a verdict of 17-13 in favour of Alan Carpenter. The worm tracked fairly evenly, favouring Barnett for the first half of the debate and Carpenter for the second. Carpenter got good responses on left issues including privatisation, GM food bans and uranium mining, and when he pointed out he had called on the Salaries Tribunal not to increase MPs’ pay. He also drew blood when criticising the Liberals’ lack of women candidates, and when saying they had done nothing to prepare themselves for government. However, he did best of all when responding to moderator Dixie Marshall’s silly question about the contenders’ greatest moral failings with a joke about the Fremantle Dockers, and proclaiming his love for Western Australia. Barnett did well invoking the shadow of Brian Burke and WA Inc, but Carpenter also succeeded in drawing Noel Crichton-Browne into the issue, and Barnett appeared to indulge in an impromptu strengthening of his position on banning cabinet members from dealing with him. Other good responses for Barnett related to housing, education and teachers’ pay, but the worm headed south when Troy Buswell was raised. Barnett did notably less well than Carpenter responding to Marshall’s concluding question.
Last week’s expectations management exercise by Labor has succeeded in talking down the Centrebet odds on a Liberal win from $4.25 to $3.50, but one news outlet that has loudly refused to play along is The West Australian. On Saturday, the paper reported that notwithstanding reports of five marginal seats showing a 7 per cent swing to the Liberals, Labor insiders also said the polling indicated the swing would be reduced to a situation where Labor would be returned to government but would lose some seats. The paper’s Robert Taylor had this to say:
With nothing apparently working, Labor got desperate towards the end of the week, claiming that its own polling showed the Liberals would win the election if it were held this weekend. That’s cynical. What Labor didn’t say was that although close, the polling still suggests the Government would be returned by a reduced majority and with two weeks to go, nightly tracking polls show the swing to the Liberals slowing not gathering pace.
The West sounds confident enough that we can probably infer Labor’s tracking poll paints a similar picture to last fortnight’s Westpoll and Newspoll, perhaps slightly worse than the latter.
UPDATE (28/8/08): Robert Taylor reports: Nightly tracking polls conducted by both parties show the swing to the Liberals is down to around two per cent, half of what they need to claim government. The Liberals are tracking voters in eight marginal seats, Labor is polling in five But both see the same trend, and it’s a win to Labor … Labor sources said they expected losses to be contained to three or four seats, two of which, Darling Range and Bunbury, are held by Liberal incumbents anyway because of the one vote, one value redistribution. And Labor still has not given up on Albany and Geraldton, held by incumbent Government MPs Peter Watson and Shane Hill. Albany is said to have swung towards the Government in recent days. Both sides believe the Liberals have something of a stranglehold on Kingsley, held by Labor’s Judy Hughes. Ocean Reef, Collie-Preston and Riverton remain in play.
However, the momentum might yet continue to build: the big business 500 Club has announced it will donate $400,000 to the party’s marginal seats campaign, bridging what was reportedly a massive gap between the parties’ war chests.
Now for an overview of the situation in those marginals, bearing in mind that a net loss of nine seats will cost Labor its majority and most likely produce a minority Liberal government. Let’s start with the seats ABC state political editor Peter Kennedy might have had in mind when he mused on last night’s television news: Could it be that sitting Labor members have opted for the safer ends of their electorates and left the marginal seats for rookies?.
Ocean Reef (Labor 1.6%): Labor’s members for Mindarie and Joondalup, John Quigley and Tony O’Gorman, would have done their party a very good turn if they had abandoned their existing seats in the crucial outer northern suburbs to tackle this less attractive new prospect. The seat has instead emerged as a contest between two newcomers, both aged 28: Labor’s Louise Durack, a social worker and organisational officer with the locally based Women’s Healthworks who was hand-picked by Alan Carpenter, and Liberal candidate Albert Jacob, a Joondalup councillor. Labor sources said they were concerned about the seat on the basis of marginal seat polling.
Mount Lawley (Labor 5.8%): Nearly two-thirds of the voters in this new seat come from abolished Yokine: perhaps Labor would have done well to keep its member Bob Kucera on board rather than dump him for preselection, leading him to quit the party and initially threaten to run as an independent (he has instead decided to retire). The seat will instead be contested for Labor by one of the highest-profile of Alan Carpenter’s hand-picked candidates, Karen Brown, former deputy editor of The West Australian and more recently director of former Labor MP John Halden’s lobbying firm Halden Burns. The Liberal candidate is Perth deputy lord mayor Michael Sutherland.
Jandakot (Labor 3.6%): The bulk of this new southern suburbs seat comes from the Liberal-held seats of Murdoch (which has been succeeded by Bateman, to be contested by Christian Porter) and Serpentine-Jarrahdale (whose Liberal member Tony Simpson will contest the radically redrawn Darling Range). Labor’s strength comes from smaller areas in the west of the electorate which have been acquired from the very safe seats of Cockburn and Willagee, both of which have maintained their identity. The member for the former is Energy Minister Fran Logan, who seems an unlikely vote-winner he has been dubbed the invisible man of the campaign due to Labor’s unwillingness to bring him along to such events as yesterday’s wind power photo op in Albany. The member for the latter is Alan Carpenter. Should the Premier have boldly led by example, John Howard-style?
The following are must-wins for the Liberals in the metropolitan area:
Kingsley (Labor 0.0%): The northern suburbs seat of Kingsley was Labor’s only gain of the 2005 election, and had never been held by the party previously. It might be thought that Judy Hughes’s win for Labor was a one-off influenced by the fact that Liberal candidate Colin Edwardes was the husband of outgoing Liberal member Cheryl Edwardes, and also by the candidacy of Marie Evans (whose husband Richard Evans was member for the corresponding federal seat of Cowan from 1996 to 1998) under the Community 1st banner, reflecting local divisions in the Liberal Party. Hughes also suffered from the redistribution, which wiped out her 0.8 per cent margin by moving the electorate’s lowest-income suburb of Warwick into the safe Labor seat of Girrawheen. As part of last week’s campaign to dampen expectations, Labor claimed it had given up on the seat.
Riverton (Labor 2.1%): Labor member Tony McRae won the seat from Court government Workplace Relations Minister Graham Kierath in 2001 and survived an avalanche of bad press from The West Australian in the final days of the 2005 campaign, which memorably gave Colin Barnett’s costings debacle second billing to the news that Labor was running a dummy candidate. McRae suffered a more substantial setback during the current term when he was sacked as Environment Minister over dealings with Brian Burke’s lobbying colleague Julian Grill. The Liberal candidate is Mike Nahan, American-accented former executive director of the Institute of Public Affairs. Expect to hear a lot from Labor in the coming week about yesterday’s call from the IPA for privatisation of electricity generation and passenger rail networks. A Westpoll survey of 400 voters conducted during the first week of the campaign had the Liberals leading 51-49.
Swan Hills (Labor 3.6%): Labor’s outgoing 31-year-old member Jaye Radisich reportedly has ambitions for a future career in federal politics, but she might have lost a few friends in the party through her determination to abandon this crucial marginal seat in favour of its safe-as-houses neighbour West Swan. Alan Carpenter was determined that West Swan should go to his chief-of-staff Rita Saffioti, and Radisich quit rather than stay put. The seat will be contested for Labor by upper house MP Graham Giffard, who loomed as a potential loser in the game of musical chairs resulting from the reduction of North Metropolitan region from seven members to six. The Liberal candidate is Swan City councillor Frank Alban. Labor says its internal polling has it feeling concerned about the seat.
Now the must-win non-metropolitan seats:
Collie-Preston (Labor 0.9%): Collie-Preston merges Labor-held Collie-Wellington with Liberal-held Capel, and has thus emerged as a head-to-head contest between respective sitting members Mick Murray and Steve Thomas. As the map on my electorate page demonstrates, it is strikingly polarised between the intensively Labor-voting coal-mining town of Collie and the smaller town of Allanson to the west, and the strongly conservative agricultural shires of Capel, Dardanup and Donnybrook-Balingup. A former president of the Collie Combined Coalmining Unions Council, Mick Murray was Labor’s best performing candidate at the 2005 election, picking up a 6.7 per cent swing in Collie-Wellington after gaining its predecessor seat of Collie in 2001. Analysis of booth results reveals that this swing was overwhelmingly concentrated in Collie itself, whose five booths swung to Murray by 12.6 per cent compared with 3.9 per cent elsewhere. It can thus be inferred that the Labor margin is boosted by Murray’s popularity with a very particular constituency that has no representation in those areas that were formerly in Capel, where Steve Thomas can instead expect a sophomore surge following his entry to parliament in 2005.
North West (Labor 3.1%): Previously known as North West Coastal, this seat now extends inland to take in the mining towns of Meekatharra and Cue along with the Murchison pastoral area, cutting the margin from 3.7 per cent to 3.1 per cent. However, of more concern to Labor is the departure of sitting member Fred Riebeling, who has been demonstrating his vote-winning ways ever since he won the Ashburton by-election in the dying days of the Lawrence government in 1992. Worse still, the Liberal candidate is Rod Sweetman, who represented the area as member for Ningaloo from 1996 until 2005, when the abolition of his seat had him hunting unsuccessfully for opportunities in Perth. Labor’s candidate is Vince Catania, who has been a member for the corresponding upper house region of Mining and Pastoral since the 2005 election, at which time he was reckoned to be an inner-city blow-in.
The following have been sent from one side of the pendulum to the other by the redistribution:
Darling Range (Labor 0.8%): This seat derives just 15 per cent of its voters from the existing seat of Darling Range, the real successor to which is Kalamunda, which will be contested by Darling Range MP John Day (it has a notional Liberal margin of 0.2 per cent, but the early campaign Westpoll gave John Day a 54-46 lead). The new Darling Range takes half its voters from abolished Serpentine-Jarrahdale, and will accordingly be contested for the Liberals by its sitting member Tony Simpson. Labor’s candidate is Lisa Griffiths, described by the local Comment News as the only woman in a group of six scientists in WA specialising in electron microscopy.
Bunbury (Labor 0.9%): It was long anticipated that Bunbury mayor John Castrilli would gain this seat for the Liberals at the 2005 election, but he ended up winning by just 103 votes. Being slightly bigger than the other main regional cities, not all of Bunbury was accommodated by the electorate under the old boundaries, the Labor-voting southern suburbs of Withers and Usher being in abolished Capel. The absorption of those areas has given Labor a 1.5 per cent boost, but the Liberals are reportedly very confident Castrilli should be able to make up the difference. Labor has nominated Peter MacFarlane, director of the Margaret River Regional Wine Centre and candidate for Forrest at last year’s federal election.
Albany (Liberal 2.3%): The other two regional city seats have gone the other way from Bunbury because they have had to make up the numbers from surrounding rural seats. In both cases this meant territory where Labor had played dead to finish behind the Nationals, ensuring they defeated the Liberals on their preferences. Labor thus has a better chance of retaining the seats than the notional margins suggest, as indicated by Alan Carpenter’s visit yesterday to spruik renewable energy (which was reported thus on the front page of today’s West Australian). For their part, the Liberals are promising to build a natural gas pipeline between Bunbury and Albany under a public-private partnership. Labor’s sitting member Peter Watson faces sports physiotherapist Andrew Partington for a second successive election.
Geraldton (Liberal 3.5%): A similar story to Albany, Geraldton was won by Labor’s Shane Hill in 2001 and has moved to the Liberal column after expanding into rural territory from the abolished Nationals seat of Greenough. The Liberal candidate is local farmer Ian Blayney.
Joondalup (Labor 3.6%): Changes of government in 1983, 1993 and 2001 all involved mass transfers of seats in Perth’s volatile northern suburbs mortgage belt, with Tony O’Gorman gaining Joondalup for Labor on the latter occasion. The Liberals would surely be hoping to gain this seat if they wish for a repeat in 2008, but their candidate Milly Zuvela has a remarkably low profile, notwithstanding a stint on Wanneroo City Council late last decade.
Forrestfield (Labor 4.5%): A new seat with no sitting member, so the margin might flatter Labor, who have nominated Andrew Waddell, a former official with the Centre faction Transport Workers Union who has worked since 1999 with the Western Australian Industrial Relations Commission. Here too the Liberals have nominated a candidate without much of a profile, school deputy principal Nathan Morton.
Southern River (Labor 5.1%): This electorate has been substantially redrawn, the existing seat providing it with only 56 per cent of its voters (the rest come from abolished Serpentine-Jarrahdale), so perhaps sitting member Paul Andrews is not as secure as his margin makes him appear. The Liberal candidate is the Reverend Peter Abetz, pastor of the Christian Reformed Church of Willetton and brother of Tasmanian Senator Eric Abetz.
Kimberley (Labor 6.3%): I was tempted to put the 5.2 per cent Liberal swing at the 2005 election down to the one-off of Colin Barnett’s canal proposal exciting local hopes of job creation (it was first won for the Liberals in the late sixties due to the local popularity of the Ord River scheme boondoggle). However, a reader has suggested the snap election announcement has left Aboriginal voters in newly acquired Halls Creek and surrounding communities off the rolls, making the seat potentially of interest.
Kalgoorlie (Liberal 7.2%): A very rough roughie maybe, but worth a mention due to the departure of Matt Birney who won the seat for the Liberals for the first time in 2001 and picked up a 7.5 per cent swing against the trend of the 2005 election. The Liberals have nominated 27-year-old pastoralist Nat James, said to have been a surprise preselection winner over Kalgoorlie-Boulder Chamber of Commerce president Guy Brownlee; Labor’s Mathew Cuomo has rather more of a profile as a local lawyer. The race is further complicated by the entry of John Bowler, the Labor-turned-independent member for abolished Murchison-Eyre who remains popular locally despite being sacked as a cabinet minister in 2007 over dealings with Brian Burke and Julian Grill (the latter of whom preceded him as member for Murchison-Eyre). Local observers also aren’t writing off Nationals candidate Tony Crook.