House of Representatives By-Elections


July 28, 2018
Margin: Labor 7.5%
Region: Southern Perth
State: Western Australia

Primary vote
Two-party preferred


The seat of Fremantle is probably the least competitive of the seats facing federal by-elections, having been held by Labor without interruption since John Curtin recovered it in 1934 following his defeat in 1931. Labor member Josh Wilson has fallen foul of Section 44 because he was born in England, and only applied to renounce his British citizenship a few weeks before nominations closed in early June 2016. His position illustrates the practical dilemmas Section 44 can entail, as Wilson was a last minute substitute after it emerged that the original Labor candidate, Chris Brown, had failed to disclose criminal convictions dating from his youth. Given the circumstances, Section 44 as interpreted the High Court would have rendered it practically impossible for Labor to preselect any candidate with foreign entanglements. Labor's 7.5% margin means the Liberals' decision not to field a candidate was unsurprising, in contrast to Perth with its 3.3% margin. Talk of a possible Greens threat is no doubt informed by the party's victory in the state seat of Fremantle at a by-election in 2009, but the larger federal electorate is a more difficult prospect for them, and their candidate ran a distant third behind the Liberals in 2016.


Josh Wilson is a former deputy mayor of Fremantle and chief-of-staff to his predecessor as member for Fremantle, Melissa Parke. He was actually the party's second choice for the seat at the 2016 election, the first having been Chris Brown, a former waterfront worker who had spent the past year as an organiser for the Maritime Union of Australia. Brown won overwhelming support from union delegates on the party's state executive to defeat Wilson by 155 votes to 110, despite Wilson winning the local party vote. However, Brown was disendorsed during the first week of the election campaign after it emerged his candidate nomination form failed to disclose spent convictions dating from his late teenage years for assaulting a police officer and driving under the influence, and Wilson was promptly installed by the party's national executive.

The Greens candidate is Dorinda Cox, domestic violence campaigner and former police officer.


Fremantle encompasses coastal southern Perth from North Fremantle to Henderson, and extends inland at its southern end to encompass Jandakot and Banjup. In remaining with Labor without interruption since 1934, the seat was the only one in Western Australia that remained with Labor at the party's historic low-water mark in 1975 and 1977, and one of only three retained amid poor performances in the state in 2010 and 2013. Metropolitan Perth was divided between Fremantle and Perth from federation until 1949, when both electorates covered considerably larger areas than their namesakes today. Only with the post-war expansion in parliament did the port city dominate the 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. His popularity as wartime leader powered a 19% swing in his favour in 1943, and he became only the second prime minister to die in office in July 1945. The subsequent members have been Kim Beazley, Sr, who would eventually serve as Education Minister in the Whitlam government; John Dawkins, Treasurer in the Keating government, from 1977 to 1994; former Premier Carmen Lawrence, who picked up a rare pro-government swing in the by-election that followed Dawkins' resignation; 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; and Josh Wilson, who succeeded Parke on her retirement in 2016.

Numbers represent two-party vote percentages at polling booths, coloured in red for a Labor majority and blue for a Liberal majority, and varying in size to reflect the number of votes cast. Numbers with black borders are from pre-poll voting centres.