House of Representatives By-Elections


July 28, 2018
Margin: Labor 3.3%
Region: Inner Perth
State: Western Australia

Primary vote
Two-party preferred


The by-election for the federal seat of Perth will be held as a result of Labor member Tim Hammond's surprise retirement announcement on May 2, unlike the other “Super Saturday” by-elections arising from the complications of Section 44. Hammond said politics was placing excessive demands on his family life, making him the latest in a long line of Perth-based politicians whose federal careers proved unexpectedly short. A former barrister specialising in representing asbestos disease victims, Hammond's election in 2016 marked his second attempt to enter federal parliament, the first being an unsuccessful run for Swan in 2010. It was long felt he would be front of the queue the next time an appropriate federal berth presented itself, including in 2013 when Perth was vacated by Stephen Smith. However, he was persuaded to stand aside on that occasion in favour of Alannah MacTiernan, who would herself hold the seat for only one term before returning to her old vocation in state politics.

On May 11, the Liberal state executive made the surprise decision not to field a candidate in the seat, a move reportedly advocated by Senator Matthias Cormann. This was widely criticised within the party, particularly by Senator Dean Smith. Christian Porter had earlier said the party would “undoubtedly” field a candidate, and state Opposition Leader Mike Nahan, who had mocked Labor's unsurprising decision not to field a candidate in the recent by-election for Colin Barnett's old seat of Cottesloe, said the by-election was “one we need to contest”.


The new Labor candidate is Patrick Gorman, who has been the party's state secretary since 2015. Gorman earlier held a senior staff position under Kevin Rudd during his first prime ministership, and was then director of public affairs for the Left faction United Voice union. His arrival to the state secretary position coincided with an upswing in Labor's electoral fortunes, with two seats gained at the federal election in September 2016, followed by a landslide win for Labor at the state election the following March. It was reported shortly after Tim Hammond's retirement announcement that an alternative scheme was being devised in which the seat would be contested by Senator Louise Pratt, whose Senate vacancy would in turn go to Gorman – presumably due to Pratt's perceived superior electoral appeal to inner city voters. However, the plan did not find the favour of the Australian Manufacturing and Workers Union, the Left faction union that has long been Pratt's power base.

The Greens candidate is Caroline Perks, senior sustainability officer at the City of Perth.


Perth central business district sits at the south-western end of the electorate that bears its name, which extends through Mount Lawley and Maylands to Morley and Bassendean. Labor has held the seat since 1983, making it one of three Western Australian seats that remained with the party through their low points in 2010 and 2013. Its members in that time have been Ric Charlesworth, former Australian hockey captain, who gained it for Labor at the 1983 election; Stephen Smith, who succeeded Charlesworth in 1993 and served variously as Foreign Minister and Defence Minister through the Rudd-Gillard years; Alannah MacTiernan, a former and current state government minister who held the seat for the term from 2013 to 2016, when she opted to return to state politics; and Tim Hammond thereafter.

Labor support in the areas covered by the electorate tended to strengthen through this period, counteracting the effects of a series of unfavourable redistributions. Stephen Smith actually managed to achieve a swing in the face of the Keating goverment's heavy defeat in 1996, and bequeated a reasonably secure margin to Alannah MacTiernan when she contested the seat in the equally difficult electoral context of 2013. MacTiernan's election marked a career breakthrough after she had been thwarted on a number of fronts since the defeat of the state Labor government in 2008, including with her unsuccessful run at the federal seat of Canning in 2010. However, she would soon decide that the looming prospect of a ministerial post in a state Labor government was a more attractive prospect than her junior role within the federal opposition, and did not recontest in 2016.

Perth gained roughly its modern character with the exansion of parliament in 1949, prior to which the entire metropolitan area was divided between Perth and Fremantle. It changed hands with some regularity before Labor's present period of dominance began, being held progressively by Tom Burke, Labor member from 1943 to 1955 and fatherer of Brian Burke; Fred Chaney Sr, Liberal member from 1955 to 1969 and father of Fred Chaney Jr, later a minister in the Fraser government; Joe Berinson, who won the seat for Labor from Chaney in 1969 and served as a junior minister in the Whitlam government, and later as a state Attorney-General; and Ross McLean, who defeated Berinson in 1975 and held the seat for the Liberals until his defeat in 1983.

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.