Six easy pieces

The Poll Bludger’s guide to the Western Australian election is up and running, although the tide of events might yet require that it be substantially revised. The headers and sidebar graphic assume the election will be held this year, despite it not being due until about February. Given that Alan Carpenter has repeatedly mused about the need to put the current “dysfunctional” parliament out of its misery, this seems a pretty safe bet. The conventional wisdom is that the election will be called for October after the sitting of parliament in Bunbury on September 9 is out of the way.

A greater uncertainty surrounds Troy Buswell’s tenure as Liberal leader. Buswell survived spill motions in May and June for the want of a better alternative, but his personal ratings have kept getting worse. Most importantly, Colin Barnett made his first noises of equivocation this week regarding his plans to retire, which had previously seemed set in stone. The West Australian reported yesterday that the Liberals are conducting polling to see if Barnett would make them electable, “as it is believed some Labor Party polling shows&#148. According to “informed Liberals”, Barnett might yet make a go of it if he’s shown to be in with a chance (it should be noted that this would require the sacrifice of Cottesloe candidate Deidre Willmott, leaving Liza Harvey in marginal Scarborough as the only female candidate in a notional Liberal seat).

If the standard is winning government rather than merely averting disaster, the polling would want to be good. When surveying the electoral landscape, one factor asserts itself with a force that makes all the sniffed chairs, snapped bras, lifted shirts and exposed Prince Alberts pale into insignifiance: the “one-vote one-value” redistribution (that at least is how it’s been marketed, but that’s a subject for another time). Going by the post-redistribution pendulum, you would never know that Labor was currently one seat away from minority government (at least when taking into account the three ex-Labor independents, which the pendulum doesn’t do). This is because the notional margins determined by Antony Green suggest Labor would have won 38 seats rather than 32 if the 2005 election had been held on the new boundaries. In the crude terms of uniform swings, the Liberals will need 51.4 per cent of the two-party preferred vote to be in contention for minority government (for a swing of 3.6 per cent), and as much as 2 per cent extra if they’re to go all the way.

2005 Election 24 8 2 34 8 15 23
Redistribution 32 8 2 42 6 11 17

The creation of eight new seats in the metropolitan area was always going to be good news for Labor, which holds 70 per cent of the area’s seats. Even so, it seems remarkable that all eight have found their way to the Labor column. The Liberals do have the marginal new seat of Scarborough, but elsewhere they lose Serpentine-Jarrahdale as part of an unhelpful carve-up of the outer suburbs. An appreciation of the situation can be gained by breaking the area into six pieces: two zones of Labor and one of Liberal heartland, and three where the election will be decided. These are outlined in the map below (indicated by the black lines: the blue ones are upper house region boundaries), with electorates colour-coded to indicate party margins (ranging in Labor’s case from lightest red for under 2.5 per cent to deep red for over 15 per cent).

Inland outskirts. The luck of the draw has turned two Labor and two Liberal seats into three Labor and one Liberal, but all could go either way. Liberal-held Serpentine-Jarrahdale has been divided among four notionally Labor seats, while Darling Range is mixed with abolished Kenwick in a manner that produces one highly marginal seat (Kalamunda) and one that is relatively safe for Labor (Forrestfield). The new seat of Darling Range owes more to Serpentine-Jarrahdale than the old Darling Range, emerging with a slight notional Labor margin.

Riverside and northern beaches. The all-blue strip along the western beaches now accounts for five Liberal seats instead of four, although Labor would win Scarborough in a good year. The riverside seats of Nedlands, Alfred Cove, South Perth and Bateman (formerly Murdoch) have all maintained their identity. Three of the nine seats in the riverside and northern beaches region are held by conservative independents.

Northern mortgage belt. Further north is the volatile mortgage belt, where the new coastal seat of Ocean Reef has muscled in among four existing electorates. All are Labor or notionally so (Kingsley has been left white on the map as it is essentially lineball), but most if not all are likely to shift with the next change of government – as the northern suburbs did in 1983, 1993 and 2001.

Eastern suburbs. The really good news for Labor is that there are now 15 seats in its inner suburban heartland from Girrawheen east to Midland and south to Armadale, including the new seats of Nollamara, West Swan, Cannington and Gosnells. The only cost for them is that safe-ish Yokine (margin of 8.2 per cent) has turned into marginal-ish Mount Lawley (5.8 per cent).

Southern coastal. This safe Labor strip is now accommodated by six seats instead of five, with Kwinana created from the south of Cockburn and the north of Peel (the remainder of which is now called Warnbro).

South-eastern. Southern River and Riverton are joined by Jandakot: all are Labor marginals, the margin in Southern River having been cut from 11.8 per cent to 5.1 per cent.

Then there are the cutbacks in the country, which owing to the “large district allowance” have impacted on conservative areas in the south-west (like I said, a subject for another time). The exception is the effective abolition of the vast Mining and Pastoral region seat of Murchison-Eyre (held by Labor-turned-independent John Bowler) and its replacement with Eyre, which more closely resembles the abolished Liberal-held seat of Roe as it includes Esperance and Ravensthorpe. This has involved the transfer of Esperance and Ravensthorpe from the Agricultural upper house region to Mining and Pastoral, cutting Agricultural’s enrolment from 93,886 to 82,479. Thus truncated, the Agricultural region now has four lower house seats in place of seven. As well as the disappearance of Roe, Liberal-held Moore has essentially absorbed Nationals-held Greenough, while the two Nationals seats of Merredin and Avon have merged into Central Wheatbelt.

The South West region has gone from 11 seats to eight, which can roughly be explained as Leschenault being absorbed by Murray (now Murray-Wellington), Capel being absorbed by Vasse and Collie-Wellington (now Collie-Preston), and Liberal-held Warren-Blackwood merging with Nationals-held Stirling to form Blackwood-Stirling. The remaining development to be noted is the expansion of Bunbury, Albany and Geraldton, each of which has shifted from one party column to the other. Bunbury is the largest of the three cities, such that the Liberal-held seat has been able to expand into Labor-voting southern suburbs which were previously accommodated by Capel. Albany and Geraldton on the other hand are Labor-held seats which have had to expand into surrounding conservative rural territory. However, this does not mean they are going to fall into the Liberals’ lap: Labor’s past lack of campaigning effort in the rural areas means they are stronger here than the margins suggest.