Seat of the week: Stirling

The post-war northern Perth suburbia covered by Stirling once accounted for a hotly contested marginal seat, but its more recent form has been illustrative of Liberals’ Western Australian supremacy.

Created in 1955 to accommodate Perth’s post-war northern suburban expansion, Stirling was long a marginal seat until the current Liberal member, Michael Keenan, established an ascendancy after winning it from Labor in 2004. Originally extending all the way inland to Guildford, the electorate assumed roughly assumed its current dimensions following a redistribution in 1969. It currently encompasses the coast from northern Scarborough north to Watermans Bay, and extends inland to Dianella in Perth’s inner north. Demographically, the coastal suburbs are older, wealthier, more affluent, and generally more favourable to the Liberals. Balga in the electorate’s north-east is proverbial for its low socio-economic status, while neighbouring Mirrabooka is home to large Arabic and Vietnamese populations. Further south, Dianella and Yokine are wealthier, and form the hub of Perth’s Jewish community. The draft redistribution proposes expanding the electorate into the eastern half of Dianella, adding 8700 voters currently in Perth, and trimming it in two places along the southern boundary: at Coolbinia and Menora in the east, where 2800 voters stand to be transferred to Perth, and Innaloo further to the west, sending 9500 to Curtin. The changes slightly reduce the Liberal margin, from 10.3% to 9.2%.




For all but one term from its creation until 1972, Stirling was held for Labor by Harry Webb, who narrowly lost the seat in 1958 and just as narrowly regained it in 1961. The tide to Labor at the 1969 election enabled Webb to retain the seat despite its being made notionally Liberal by redistribution, but he was defeated when Western Australia bucked the national trend in 1972. Its members since then have been Ian Viner, a Fraser government Aboriginal Affairs Minister who held on by 12 votes in 1974; Ron Edwards, who defeated Viner in 1983 and narrowly retained it at three further elections; Eoin Cameron, a promiment radio broadcaster who unseated Edwards in 1993; and Jann MacFarlane, who recovered the seat for Labor in 1998 and retained it in 2001, reflecting Labor’s strong performance in Western Australia under Kim Beazley’s leadership.

The seat changed hands for the third time in five elections in 2004, when a 3.6% swing accounted for MacFarlane’s margin of 1.6%. The victorious Liberal candidate was Michael Keenan, a former adviser to Amanda Vanstone and Alexander Downer who had been drafted to the seat after the original Liberal candidate, Paul Afkos, withdrew under a cloud. Keenan survived a determined Labor challenge at the 2007 election from Peter Tinley, a former SAS officer Peter Tinley who is now a front-bencher in the state Opposition, who was only able to knock 0.7% off the existing 2.0% margin. The Liberals’ mounting strength in Western Australia was further emphasised by successive swings of 4.3% and 4.8% in 2010 and 2013.

After the 2007 election defeat, Keenan won promotion to the front bench as Shadow Assistant Treasurer and Shadow Minister for Superannuation and Corporate Governance. His alignment with Malcolm Turnbull appeared to be reflected in his career trajectory, as he gained the shadow cabinet post of employment and workplace relations when Turnbull became leader in September 2008, only to return to the junior shadow ministry in justice and customs when Tony Abbott deposed him in December 2009. He has retained the justice portfolio since the election of the Abbott government in September 2013, and its attendant junior ministry status.

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.

5 comments on “Seat of the week: Stirling”

  1. This is the sort of seat the ALP would likely have gained if they had gone to a DD during the Rudd government, especially earlier in the term.

  2. If rudd had stayed on in 2010 with no challenge by Gillard, labor would have definately lost that year.

    How much they would have lost by is a question we will never know the answer to, but I reckon it would have been an utter catastrophe for labor.

  3. Question for the Poll Bludger – does any other federal seat have a higher percentage of time held by the opposition than Stirling?

  4. Interesting question, Shaun – at least if we’re talking about marginal seats. The answer either way is no – in the period of Stirling’s existence since 1955, Bendigo has been in opposition hands for 37 years out of 60, whereas for Stirling it’s only 32. However, any seat that simply stayed Labor all that time would have chalked up 35.

  5. 2

    I am not talking about an election under Rudd after the Gillard takeover not happening, I am talking earlier, probably much earlier. Probably in the earlier part of the second half of 2008, probably while Nelson was still leader.

Leave a Reply

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