As the first full week of the Western Australian election campaign concludes, the big news is the pre-election financial statement issued yesterday by Treasury, which wiped out a budget surplus that was earlier projected for 2019-20, and amended the peak debt forecast for that year from $39.7 billion to $41.1 billion. With lip service thus paid to the big picture, the rest of this post probes into electorate-specific happenings of the campaign so far.
• A poll conducted for the Nationals by MediaReach suggests Brendon Grylls will not be greatly troubled in his seat of Pilbara. Conducted on January 24 from a sample of 513, the poll has Grylls on 33% of the primary vote, Labor on 23%, the Liberals on 13%, Shooters and Fishers on 11%, One Nation on 10% and the Greens on 9%, with 2% undecided. The poll also recorded net approval ratings of plus 23% for Grylls, minus 36% for Colin Barnett, plus 7% for Mark McGowan, and plus 6% for Pauline Hanson. The voting intention results are starkly at odds with two earlier polls of the electorate conducted by Utting Research for the Chamber of Minerals and Energy, which showed Grylls running third. The more recent of these was conducted November 29 to December 2, and found Grylls on 18%, Labor on 30%, Liberal on 26% and One Nation on 16%, translating into a 52-48 Liberal winning margin over Labor at the final count. The earlier poll, conducted between November 1 and November 3, had Grylls on 19%, Labor on 26%, Liberal on 22% and One Nation on 16%, with the Liberals to prevail over Labor by 55-45. The respective sample sizes for the polls were reported at 300 and 400.
• Whereas Labor has ruled out doing any sort of a preference deal with One Nation, Gary Adshead of The West Australian reported on Wednesday that “Liberal Party officials have confirmed discussions with One Nation, but nothing has been ratified by the Liberal executive”.
What Colin Barnett has been up to:
• The West Australian reports the Liberals will today promise to widen three stretches of the southbound Mitchell Freeway between Joondalup to Leederville. Once the traffic disruption attendant to the construction work is out of the way in late 2019, this will make driving to work easier for affected voters in the key seats of Balcatta (Liberal margin 7.0%), Joondalup (10.1%), Burns Beach (11.5%) and Wanneroo (11.0%).
• The flipside of this is that the $114 million funding will be reallocated from four existing projects, which will presumably impact on their completion dates. One of these is the Northlink WA project, running from Morley through Ellenbrook to Muchea – a course that takes it through the seats of Morley (Liberal margin 4.7%), West Swan (Labor-held, but notionally Liberal on a margin of 0.4%) and Swan Hills (3.9%) on its way to the conservative rural seat of Moore. This may well be thought to bespeak a certain lack of confidence on the Liberals’ part in retaining these seats. The other three projects encompass a stretch of the Kwinana Freeway servicing a marginal seat dead zone (safe Liberal Jandakot, safe Labor Willagee, Cockburn and Kwinana), and two regional roads in Nationals seats: one in North West Central, and the other running through Central Wheatbelt and Kalgoorlie.
• Barnett promised a $60 million redevelopment of Balcatta High School on Wednesday, offering further evidence that the Balcatta electorate, which the Liberals won for the first time in 2013, continues to feature in their strategic designs. The announcement modestly trumps an earlier promise by Labor to provide $50 million.
• Also on Wednesday, Barnett announced Collie would be the “preferred location” for the headquarters of a new rural fire service. The affected seat of Collie-Preston is held for Labor by Mick Murray, whose 0.1% margin at the 2013 election has been turned into a notional Liberal margin of 2.8% by the redistribution.
• On Tuesday, Barnett announced $105 million would be spent on a marina project in Ocean Reef, trumping an earlier Labor commitment to provide $40 million. Ocean Reef is now located in the Joondalup electorate following the redistribution, causing the electorate of that name to be changed to Burns Beach.
For his part, Mark McGowan has focused almost entirely on the Metronet expansion of Perth’s rail network, which also formed the basis of his unsuccessful campaign in 2013. In a circumstance very familiar from the 2014 election in Victoria, the Liberals will spend the election campaign pointing out that Labor has to rely on the federal government agreeing to divert funding from the Perth Freight Link project, which Labor plans to scrap, while Labor will argue that the federal government would not be silly enough to do otherwise once it is in power. Since unveiling the revised plan on Monday, McGowan’s main campaign activities have been as follows:
• Yesterday he was in Ellenbrook to promise that a rail spur linking the suburb to the Midland line will be operational in 2022. Ellenbrook is the main population centre in Swan Hills, and the spur will also service Morley.
• On Wednesday, McGowan was spruiking extensions of the Armadale line to Byford, servicing the potentially sensitive Liberal-held seat of Darling Range (12.8%), and a link between Thornlie and Cockburn in the southern suburbs, which I presume will run through the target seat of Southern River (Liberal margin 11.0%), among others.
• On Tuesday, McGowan took to the Joondalup line to commit $386 million to extending it by 13 kilometres through Alkimos and Eglinton to Yanchep, with a promised completion date of 2021. The entire length of the extension runs through the seat of Butler, which John Quigley holds for Labor on a margin of 0.7%.