Seat du jour: Fremantle

Barring a first defeat for Labor in 85 years, the seat of John Curtin is set to become the seat of former wharfie Chris Brown, following Melissa Parke’s retirement at the coming election.

Fremantle encompasses coastal southern Perth from North Fremantle to Henderson, and extends inland at its southern end to encompass Jandakot and Banjup. The redistribution has truncated an area of Liberal strength on the southern bank of the Swan River, with 10,000 voters in Bicton, Willagee and Kardinya transferred to Tangney, boosting the Labor margin from 4.8% to 5.8%. A concentration of Greens support around the town of Fremantle allowed the party to win the state seat at a by-election in 2009, but the party is considerably weaker in the southern areas included in the larger federal electorate. Fremantle is one of three seats left to Labor in Western Australia after consecutive electoral disasters in 2010 and 2013, and was the only seat retained at Labor’s historic low-water mark of 1975 and 1977. All three of the Labor-held seats are to be vacated at the election, the retiring member in this case being Melissa Parke, the member since 2007.




Metropolitan Perth was divided between the divisions of Fremantle and Perth when electoral boundaries were first drawn at federation, with both covering considerably larger areas than their namesake electorates today. Only with the expansion of parliament in 1949 did the port city dominate the Fremantle electorate to the extent of making it safe for Labor. John Curtin came to the seat in 1928 when he unseated an independent, William Watson, who recovered it in the anti-Labor landslide of 1931 as the candidate of the United Australia Party. Curtin won the seat back in 1934 and succeeded Jim Scullin as Labor leader the following year, although he was again run close in Fremantle in 1940.

After leading the country through the sharp end of the war years, and picking up a 19% swing in Fremantle in 1943, Curtin became only the second prime minister to die in office in July 1945. Fremantle was retained for Labor at the ensuing by-election by Kim Beazley, Sr, who would eventually serve as Education Minister in the Whitlam government. Later members for Fremantle were Keating government Treasurer John Dawkins, from 1977 to 1994, and former Premier Carmen Lawrence, who picked up a rare pro-government swing in the by-election that followed Dawkins’ resignation. Lawrence was succeeded on her retirement at the 2007 election by Melissa Parke, a Left-aligned former United Nations human rights lawyer who rose to the outer ministry when Kevin Rudd returned to the leadership in June 2013. Parke resigned from the shadow outer ministry in 2014 citing personal and family reasons, and become more assertive in her criticisms of party policy on national security and asylum seeker issues from her position on the back bench.

Parke’s retirement announcement in January 2016 initiated a preselection contest that was won by Chris Brown, a former waterfront worker who has had a rapid rise in politics since taking on a job as an organiser with the Maritime Union of Australia a year ago. The union leveraged its growing strength in the WA branch into a deal that gave Brown overwhelming support from the union delegates who determined half the preselection vote. The local branch membership ballot, contributing a quarter of the overall result, was won 155-110 by Josh Wilson, chief-of-staff to Melissa Parke and deputy mayor of Fremantle. The Liberals have endorsed Sherry Sufi, former staffer to state MP Michael Sutherland and chair of the state party’s policy committee, who has gained a reputation as an arch-conservative. Sufi was preselected ahead of Pierrette Kelly, a staffer to Senator Chris Back, and Philip Mercer, owner of a local solar business. The Greens candidate is Kate Davis, solicitor for tenants’ rights organisation Tenancy WA.

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.

2 comments on “Seat du jour: Fremantle”

  1. Melissa Parke’s retirement will hurt Labor. The Green vote should rise significantly. Parke did an extremely good job keeping their vote relatively subdued.
    The Liberals may try to make this the quintessential ABCC battleground but that wont make a difference in my mind due to the fact the Liberals ever diminishing clout in WA will just make this even safer for Labor.

  2. I agree, to be honest I expect the Liberals to be main losers here. The Greens will probably increase there vote by a fair bit, but may fall narrowly short of second on primaries. It is true that Parke was one of the most leftward leaning MPs in the ALP, but her retirement probably won’t be enough to flip the seat

Leave a Reply

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