Seat of the week: Canning

Located at Perth’s southern fringe, Canning has become progressively stronger for the Liberals since falling to them in 2001 – a picture that was little disturbed by the weekend’s by-election result.

The scene of a mid-term by-election held five days after Malcolm Turnbull assumed the prime ministership, Canning extends from Perth’s south-eastern outskirts south to coastal Mandurah, the South Western Highway towns of Pinjarra and Waroona, and the gold mining town of Boddington further inland. The draft redistribution proposes the transfer of about a third of its voters to the new electorate of Burt, in an area encompassing the outer suburbs of Armadale, Forrestdale and Kelmscott. It stands to be compensated with the northern part of Mandurah, hitherto in the seat of Brand, and less populous areas in the Darling Range and at the edge of the Wheatbelt, formerly in Pearce. The seat has been in Liberal hands since 2001, being held for most of that time by Don Randall, whose sudden death from a suspected heart attack occasioned the by-election on September 19. The seat was retained for the Liberals at the by-election by Andrew Hastie, an SAS officer who had served three tours in Afghanistan, who secured a 5.3% margin after a swing to Labor of 6.5%.




Canning extended deep into the Wheatbelt when it was created with the enlargement of parliament in 1949, and was accordingly held by the Country Party until 1974, barring one term in Liberal hands after the 1961 election. The Country Party lost it for good at the 1974 election, which the state branch contested as the National Alliance in an electorally disastrous joint venture with the Democratic Labor Party. Wendy Fatin won the seat for Labor for the first time in 1983 following spectacular successive swings, of 13.0% in 1980 and 9.2% in 1983. The enlargement of parliament in 1984 led to the loss of Canning’s rural areas, reorienting it as a Perth outskirts seat with a slightly smaller Labor margin. Fatin moved to the new seat of Brand and Canning was won for Labor by George Gear, who faced Ricky Johnston as Liberal candidate at each of the five elections he contested, surviving by 244 votes in 1993 before Johnston finally prevailed by 968 votes in 1996. Johnston’s long-sought victory marked the first of three consecutive elections at which the seat changed hands, the second of which saw her defeated by Labor’s Jane Gerick in 1998. Gerick was in turn unseated in 2001 after an unfavourable redistribution and a gentle but decisive Liberal swing.

The new Liberal member was Don Randall, who had raised many an eyebrow during his one term as member for Swan after 1996, most notably when he accused Democrats-turned-Labor MP Cheryl Kernot of having “the morals of an alley cat on heat”. He retained his reputation as a loose cannon in later years by boycotting the stolen generations apology and attacking the Reserve Bank, but equally became known for the effort he put into cultivating his electorate. This helped him put an end to Canning’s see-sawing electoral fortunes with a 9.2% swing in his favour in 2004. Randall had some assistance on that occasion from Labor’s difficulties with candidates, with terminal illness forcing Jane Gerick to abandon a bid to recover her old seat, and her successor withdrawing amid internal party disputes. Nonetheless, he suffered a fairly minor correction of 4.0% in the more settled circumstances of 2007. Randall faced a strong challenge in 2010 from Alannah MacTiernan, a former senior minister in the Gallop/Carpenter state Labor government and now the federal member for Perth, but her 2.2% swing against the national tide was insufficient to account for Randall’s 4.3% margin. In the absence of MacTiernan, the seat recorded a 9.6% swing to the Liberals in 2013 – the fifth biggest in the country, and the second biggest outside of Tasmania.

Following Randall’s death on July 21, Andrew Hastie won a Liberal preselection ballot ahead of a field that included company director Daniel Nikolic, local school teacher Ashley King, small business owners Marisa Hislop, and Pierrette Kelly, an electorate officer to Senator Chris Back. Labor’s candidate was Matt Keogh, a commercial lawyer and president of the WA Law Society, who emerged uncontested following the withdrawal of Kelly McManus, a staffer to state Mandurah MP David Templeman currently, and formerly to Kim Beazley. The by-election was widely promoted as a test of Tony Abbott’s embattled leadership, but this became redundant on the Monday before the poll when he was successfully challenged by Malcolm Turnbull. The swing that was subsequently recorded to Labor approached 10% around Armadale, shortly to be excised from the electorate by the redistribution, but was notably milder in Mandurah, at a little over 3%.

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.

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