Vasse by-election: October 18

A brief introduction to Saturday’s by-election to fill the vacancy caused by Troy Buswell’s resignation from the WA state seat of Vasse, which looms as a contest between the Liberals and the Nationals.

Western Australia’s Vasse by-election will be held on Saturday, to choose a replacement for troubled former Treasurer Troy Buswell. In the absence of a Labor candidate, the by-election looms as a contest between the Liberals and Nationals in which the Liberals start short-priced favourites, having outpolled the Nationals 57.3% to 7.3% at the March 2013 state election. Curious as it may seem to outsiders though, Buswell did have a very strong personal vote in his home base of Busselton especially, and the Nationals had no cause to mount a strong campaign against him. This time the Nationals are targeting the seat with a fair amount of gusto, and at the very least it will be interesting to see the kind of inroads they can make. In the last two elections before Buswell’s arrival on the scene in 2005, the Nationals polled just over 23%, having a locally well-connected candidate in Beryle Morgan, who was Buswell’s predecessor as Busselton shire president. Morgan made waves at the time by expressing her admiration for Pauline Hanson, and had views to match on immigration, foreign aid and public displays of affection between gay people.

The electorate draws around two-thirds of its voters from Busselton, from which it extends westwards along the Geographe Bay coast to Dunsborough and Cape Naturaliste, then south of the cape along Caves Road to encompass Yallingup and Gracetown. Outside of Busselton, the voter base is roughly evenly divided between the Caves Road coast, which is an extension of the Margaret River region in terms of being noted for tourism, surf beaches and viticulture; and more conventionally conservative beef and dairy farming territory further inland. Support for the Greens in the former of these regions has approached 20% in recent elections, while being less than half that in Busselton. The Nationals, predictably enough, are strongest in the latter area. Troy Buswell’s vote was 7% higher in Busselton than the Liberals managed at the federal election, but slightly lower in the Caves Road region.

The Labor primary vote last year was a meagre 12.4%, so their absence from proceedings this time around is a fairly minor factor. Presumably though the resurgent Greens can expect to benefit; beyond that, the main question is how much of the vote the Nationals can secure.

Candidates in ballot paper order:

Wayne Barnett (Australian Christians). Works in horticulture and a regular candidate for the party regionally.

Peter Gordon (Nationals). Owner of the Equinox café on the Busselton foreshore, along with a beach bar and restaurant at the town’s Broadwater resort. Also a former president of the Busselton Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Peter Johnson (Independent). Breaking the election candidate mould somewhat, Johnson is a former state president and life member of the Rebels Motorcycle Club.

Libby Mettam (Liberal). A former Channel Nine and ABC journalist and media adviser to South West Liberal MLC Barry House, who won preselection without opposition.

Michael Baldock (Greens). A structural engineer, and also president of Dunsborough Primary School parents and citizens.

Teresa van Lieshout (Independent). A recurring independent candidate who also ran for One Nation in 2005, and was initially endorsed as the Palmer United candidate for Fremantle at last year’s federal election, before her stern views on asylum seekeers caused a falling out with the party. Van Lieshout caught the feel of the electorate pretty well by donning a bikini and going fishing for her campaign promotional video.

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.

13 comments on “Vasse by-election: October 18”

  1. Curious as it may seem to outsiders though, Buswell did have a very strong personal vote in his home base of Busselton especially,

    For all its natural beauty and charm Busselton has always had more than its fair share of Buswell types in the population.

  2. I think the question will be whether the Libs can manage 40% of the primary vote.

    If they can get over that line, I reckon they’ll probably get home ahead of the Nationals on Greens/indy preferences.

  3. The fact that at the height of the damage Buswell was causing the Libs, the locals in his home town thought he was still a pretty good bloke and fit to be a minister says heaps about the good folk down there.

    Does anybody else in WA who does not live in lotus land in that part of a world, actually give a stuff who gets in between one lot of the conservative brand and the other?

  4. @ Tricot 4

    Because every seat the Nats pinch off the Libs makes it harder for the Libs to return to government in case of a hung parliament (because it’ll make the Nats demand more).

  5. AS – I guess that is one way of looking at it.

    I am more concerned that Labor seems to be making nil headway in Perth, let alone what bone the conservatives fight over in a place such as Busselton.

    When Labor could not even win back Morley last time around – a Labor area if ever there was one – then much else about what happens is academic.

    Knowing the Nats would sell their soul for 5 pieces of Royalty for Regions gold to the highest bidder is nothing to look forward to.

  6. 2013 was a weird election (I guess being two and a half years into the endless federal 2010 campaign didn’t help). Compare to 1996, the last time Labor had their first election after losing govt. Same overall result (bad loss for Labor, second term for the Libs), but Perth and Belmont were reliably safe Labor seats, Albany had been Liberal for decades and Collie was held by the Nats. Much has changed.

    Vasse? If anyone but the Libs won, it’d make headlines, just for this: the state Libs have never lost a seat in a by-election since the party was formed 70 years ago. It’d also be a bit perverse, considering they’ve replaced the public face of their party’s problem with women with a woman.

  7. Also on this Saturday, there’s a by-election in the NT – Casuarina, a fairly safe Labor seat in Darwin. Two for the price of one.

  8. [A former Channel Nine and ABC journalist …]

    The ABC … that hothouse for training tomorrows radical lefties … oh wait … she’s running for the Liberals …


    Amusing that the Greens chap is a structural engineer. Not the most tree-hugger/snag of occupations … Aren’t sterotypes fun?

  9. WA Labor lost the 2013 state election for the simple reason that the voters wanted to punish federal Labor and the Coalition me-too’d the Labor push for a public transport policy.

    If either of those things hadn’t happened, IMO we would have seen a Labor government after the 2013 state election.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *