The looming by-election in Darling Range is the second since Labor's landslide win at the Western Australian state election of 2017, after that which replaced Colin Barnett in Cottesloe in March, and the first in a seat that is competitive with respect to the two major parties. It has been prompted by the resignation of Labor member Barry Urban, in circumstances that would appear to make the by-election a difficult proposition for the government. Labor's troubles didn't end there: a similar though less severe controversy engulfed Colleen Yates, former chief executive of Regional Development Australia Perth, who was preselected as Urban's successor on May 21. She withdrew four days later after it emerged she had exaggerated her educational attainments on her LinkedIn profile a misdemanour she could probably have glossed over under other circumstances, but fatal for her under the circumstances.
Barry Urban's win in 2017 was among the more spectacular of Labor's 20 gains at the March 2017 election, having been achieved from a swing of 18.6% the eighth highest of the election, making Darling Range the fourth safest seat lost to the Liberals and Nationals at the election. However, his career unravelled last November when it emerged that a decoration he wore for police service overseas, which he originally claimed to have received for war crimes investigations in Bosnia-Herzegovina, had actually been bought online, and that two British universities he claimed had awarded him degrees had no record for him. Urban resigned from the ALP shortly after the story broke in November, and announced his resignation from parliament on May 7, a day before the parliament's privileges committee was due to bring down a report on the matter. What remains beyond dispute about his background is that he came to Australia from the United Kingdom in 2000, worked in construction before joining the police force in 2005, and served on Serpentine-Jarrahdale Shire Council.
Despite Labor's travails, the one published opinion poll of the campaign was highly positive for them. Conducted by ReachTEL from 600 respondents for The West Australian on the Thursday the week before the by-election, it had Labor holding a 54-46 lead on two-party preferred, with the Labor primary vote little changed on Barry Urban's 41.5% at the election, and Liberal up from 30.4% to around 34%. One Nation were on around 10%, and the Greens were on around 4%. More than half the respondents said Barry Urban’s resignation (and presumably also that of Colleen Yates) would not affect their vote, with around a third saying they were less likely to vote Labor and 16% somehow registering that they were more likely to.
Darling Range covers the south-eastern reaches of the Perth metropolitan area, taking most of its voters from the South Western Highway towns of Byford, Mundijong and Serpentine. It has existed in name for all but one term since 1950, but it emerged from the one-vote one-value redistribution in 2008 bearing little resemblance to its earlier namesake, most of which had gone to the new seat of Kalamunda. Half of the new Darling Range's voters came from abolished Serpentine-Jarrahdale, and it was duly bequeathed to that seat's Liberal member, Tony Simpson, while Kalamunda went to the member for Darling Range, John Day.
Tony Simpson first had to overcome a notional Labor margin of 0.8% to win Darling Range in 2008, but this was easily achieved with a swing of 6.3%. A further swing of 8.3% followed with the Barnett government's sweeping re-election in 2013, after which he was promoted to cabinet as Local Government Minister. However, he resigned in September 2016 citing a lack of confidence in Barnett, together with Transport and Agriculture Minister Dean Nalder, which triggered an unsuccessful spill motion. His margin in Darling Range was pared back by 2.5% by a redistribution that transferred around 3600 voters in the new urban fringe suburbs of Harrisdale and Piara Waters to Jandakot, balanced by gains of Baldivis east of the Kwinana Freeway from Kwinana in the south, and Sawyers Valley and southern Mundaring from Swan Hills in the north.
Following the withdrawal of Colleen Yates, Labor's state executive promptly recruited Tania Lawrence, a senior manager of global business integration at Woodside, who had not previously been a member of the party. The Liberal candidate is Alyssa Hayden, who held a Legislative Council seat in East Metropolitan region from 2008 to 2017, when she unexpectedly lost her seat to One Nation. Hayden reportedly had a narrow victory in the local preselection over Rob Coales, police sergeant and Serpentine-Jarrahdale councillor. Her backers included Christian Porter and Ken Wyatt, while Coales had the support of Tony Simpson, who held the seat for the Liberals until his defeat by outgoing Labor member Barry Urban last year. Nathan Hondros of Fairfax reports the party's state council may have insisted on Hayden even if she lost the vote.