Seat du jour: Swan

A look at one of a number of traditionally marginal seats in Western Australia which the Liberals have held on to for over a decade, in which Labor is mounting a particularly strong challenge this time.

Welcome to episode 16 of Seat du jour, an opportunity for you to read about and (hopefully) discuss the individual contests that will determine the May 18 election. So far the series has taken us to Forde, Boothby, Petrie, Hasluck, Herbert, Banks, Corangamite, Chisholm, Reid, Bass, Pearce, Lindsay, Gilmore, Dickson and La Trobe.

Today is the turn of the seat of Swan in Perth’s inner south-east, which has been in Liberal hands since 2007, in keeping with the party’s recent dominance in the state’s traditional marginal seats. Swan has existed in name since federation, but it covered large areas of the state’s south-west until the enlargement of parliament in 1949. It now extends from South Perth and Como to Victoria Park and Belmont in the north-east, and Bentley and Cannington in the east. A division is evident between an affluent and Liberal-voting west and a lower-income, Labor-voting east, reflected in the corresponding state seats of South Perth and Victoria Park respectively being safe for Liberal and Labor.

Labor held Swan for only two brief periods until Adrian Bennett gained it in 1969, and retained it through to the 1975 landslide. It was then held for the Liberals for two terms by John Martyr, before returning to the Labor fold in 1980 with the election of Kim Beazley Jr, future party leader and son of Whitlam government minister Kim Beazley Sr. An unfavourable redistribution and successive swings reduced Beazley’s margin to 294 votes in 1993, causing him to seek a somewhat safer berth in Brand at the 1996 election, which he nonetheless retained by only 387 votes.

In Beazley’s absence, Swan was won for the Liberals by Don Randall, who lasted only one term before falling foul of a 6.4% swing to Labor in 1988. Randall would return in 2001 as member for Canning, where he remained until his death in 2015. Kim Wilkie then held the seat for Labor for three terms, though he barely survived Labor’s poor performance across Perth in 2004, despite a disastrous campaign for Liberal candidate Andrew Murfin. A correction after the Liberals’ under-performance in 2004 may explain the seat’s bucking of the trend with the defeat of the Howard government in 2007, when Swan was one of only two seats to switch from Labor to Liberal, along with the northern Perth seat of Cowan.

Swan has since been held for the Liberals by Steve Irons, a former WA league footballer and proprietor of an air-conditioning business. Despite his electoral successes in a difficult seat, he only won promotion to parliamentary secretary rank with Scott Morrison’s rise to the prime ministership in August 2018. He faces a significant opponent in Labor’s Hannah Beazley, a policy adviser to Mark McGowan and the daughter of the seat’s distinguished former member.

All indications are that the seat is finely balanced – a YouGov Galaxy poll conducted on May 1 credited Irons with a 51-49 lead, and reports of internal polling have had Labor claiming a dead heat, and the Liberals claiming they are slightly ahead. An assessment of the situation in Western Australia by Andrew Burrell of The Australian in the final week of the campaign had Labor sources identifying the seat as their best chance of a gain in the state. A run-in with a heckler during the final week of the campaign encouraged impressions that Irons was feeling the pressure.

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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