WA election: modelling the 2008 result

An attempt to make sense of where the two parties over- and under-performed at the last WA state election.

In a few idle moments, I’ve knocked together a linear regression model to fit the results of the 2008 election in the vague hope it might shed some insight on where Labor and Liberal over- and under-performed. I’ve limited this to metropolitan electorates, because the relationship between voting and the most potent explanatory variable – income – breaks down beyond the city limits. I’ve also excluded electorates where independents reached the final count in the preference distribution (i.e. Churchlands, Alfred Cove and Kwinana).

On my first run I simply looked at income, and two not unexpected factors stood out. Parties over-performed where they had a sitting member defending their seat, and Labor over-performed in the inner-city and Fremantle. So I added two extra variables to the model: the Greens primary vote, to serve as a proxy for inner city-ness, and another variable which assigned a value of -1 to seats with a Liberal incumbent, 1 to seats with a Labor incumbent, and 0 to seats which were vacant. From these variables, Labor’s two-party vote can be modelled as 0.681 -0.419a +0.781b +0.056c, where “a” is a measure of median family income, “b” is the Greens primary vote and “c” is the incumbency variable. This explains 86% of the variation in the two-party results.

The following table ranks seats according to how Labor performed relative to the expectation of the model, from highest to lowest. The columns show median family income from the 2011 census, actual Labor two-party preferred, Labor two-party preferred according to the model, and the candidate situation at this election. “Sophomore” refers to situations where a party has gone from not having a sitting member at the 2008 election to having one in 2013, hence excludes situations where the sitting member has changed as a result of by-elections. “Vacancy” refers to the opposite situation, meaning a retiring sitting member in four cases and a mid-term by-election loss in the fifth (Fremantle).

West Swan	1879	54.4%	47.7%	6.8%	ALP sophomore	
Perth		2536	57.8%	51.7%	6.1%    ALP incumbent
Warnbro		2008	59.7%	53.8%	5.9%    ALP incumbent
Nollamara	1450	62.7%	57.4%	5.4%    ALP sophomore
Maylands	1981	59.0%	54.1%	4.9%    ALP sophomore
Cockburn	1951	59.6%	55.2%	4.4%    ALP incumbent
Ocean Reef	2374	45.6%	41.6%	4.0%	LIB sophomore
Jandakot	2254	48.2%	44.4%	3.8%	LIB sophomore
Armadale	1406	64.8%	61.6%	3.2%    ALP incumbent
Mindarie	1796	58.5%	55.4%	3.1%    ALP incumbent
Willagee	1712	64.6%	62.3%	2.3%    ALP incumbent
Victoria Park	1875	59.0%	57.2%	1.8%    ALP incumbent
Scarborough	2319	44.8%	44.0%	0.8%	LIB sophomore
South Perth	2437	35.7%	35.1%	0.6%    LIB incumbent
Cannington	1521	59.0%	58.7%	0.4%	ALP sophomore
Darling Range	2028	44.4%	44.1%	0.3%    LIB incumbent
Hillarys	2331	38.6%	38.8%	-0.1%   LIB incumbent
Gosnells	1488	55.5%	56.0%	-0.5%	ALP sophomore
Mount Lawley	2079	47.8%	48.9%	-1.1%	LIB sophomore
Bateman		2258	38.6%	39.7%	-1.1%   LIB vacancy
Belmont		1713	56.7%	58.2%	-1.5%	ALP vacancy
Morley		1642	49.1%	50.9%	-1.7%	LIB sophomore
Rockingham	1474	60.6%	62.4%	-1.7%   ALP incumbent
Fremantle	2156	62.0%	63.8%	-1.7%	ALP vacancy
Wanneroo	2016	49.3%	51.1%	-1.8%	LIB sophomore
Forrestfield	1757	50.2%	52.2%	-2.0%	ALP sophomore
Southern River	2152	48.4%	50.3%	-2.0%	LIB sophomore
Riverton	2033	49.8%	52.2%	-2.4%	LIB sophomore
Bassendean	1604	60.3%	62.8%	-2.4%	ALP vacancy
Joondalup	1908	53.5%	56.1%	-2.6%   ALP incumbent
Midland		1655	58.3%	61.2%	-2.9%   ALP incumbent
Kalamunda	1871	43.7%	46.7%	-3.0%   LIB incumbent
Cottesloe	2871	30.6%	33.9%	-3.3%   LIB incumbent
Swan Hills	2011	46.5%	49.9%	-3.5%	LIB sophomore
Girrawheen	1384	61.5%	65.1%	-3.6%   ALP incumbent
Carine		2562	35.5%	39.5%	-4.0%	LIB sophomore
Balcatta	1789	52.3%	56.4%	-4.1%	ALP vacancy
Kingsley	2170	45.5%	50.8%	-5.3%	LIB sophomore

As a basis for analysis this is far from foolproof, as in every case the result would have been influenced by multiple factors outside the model. Nonetheless, it hopefully offers a few hints where parties do or don’t have room to improve. Labor’s six “best” results were achieved in seats where the Liberals did very little campaigning as they recognised them as safe for Labor, so it might then be thought notable that they are putting considerable effort into two of them (West Swan and Perth) this time. There’s no corresponding pattern at the other end of the table, although Labor did abandon Kingsley very early in the 2008 campaign after recognising it as a lost cause. The two seats which would have intuitively been expected to have been near the bottom of the table, Mount Lawley and especially Morley, are in fact not far from the middle – though I hesitate to read too much into that.

If anyone has any further ideas, I’m all ears.

WA election minus 11 days

With less than two weeks to go until the WA state election, Labor’s heroic effort to seize the campaign initiative doesn’t seem to be changing voters’ inclination to return the Barnett government.

Here’s my review of the situation from yesterday’s Crikey:

A familiar part of the ritual of modern state elections is the morning-after debate over what it all means for the federal government. According to circumstance, federal leaders will claim the result to have been “overwhelmingly something decided on state issues” (copyright John Howard from the morning after Labor came to power in WA at the 2001 election), or a “referendum” on the federal government (Tony Abbott, passim).

To at least some extent, state elections cannot fail to be influenced by federal factors. Modern federal-state relations being as they are, accurately assigning responsibility for outcomes is hard enough work even for the few who are aware how policy responsibilities are allocated in the constitution. For the rest, there is a natural inclination to fall back on affective responses to party labels which are heavily influenced by perceptions of the federal sphere.

However, it’s equally clear that federal factors loom a lot larger at some state elections than others. Whereas Neville Wran was famously able to lead Labor to power in New South Wales at federal Labor’s low ebb of 1976, Wayne Goss could credibly complain that voters had been waiting “on their verandahs with baseball bats” for the Keating government after he copped an unexpected whack at the Queensland election of 1995.

Two weeks out the March 9 Western Australian election, Labor leader Mark McGowan would have a good idea of how Goss was feeling.

Despite some missteps, such as last week’s muddled half-promise to rearrange the government’s Swan River foreshore development, McGowan has overseen a campaign whose basic strategy offers a model to beleaguered oppositions seeking to take up the challenge to ascendant governments.

In proposing a $3.8 billion expansion of Perth’s rail network, Labor smartly tied Liberal weaknesses (traffic congestion, a broken rail line promise from the last election, and a sense of the Premier being detached from everyday concerns) and Labor strengths (its delivery of successful major rail projects when previously in office) into a single message that it forcefully communicated through well-crafted television spots. The Labor campaign has also done as well as could be hoped in building McGowan’s undercooked public profile, helped in some degree by his clear win in last week’s leaders debate.

A measure of the campaign’s accomplishment was provided by a Galaxy poll in yesterday’s Sunday Times which had McGowan trailing Colin Barnett by just 6% as preferred premier, essentially confirming the recent Newspoll result which had it at 4%. These are strong numbers for an opposition leader in any circumstance, and substantially better than Barnett was doing against Alan Carpenter before he won the 2008 election.

However, this cheering result for Labor was marred by the small matter of voting intention, on which the poll had the Liberal and National parties on 50% of the primary vote for a resounding two-party preferred lead of 56-44. This points to a swing against Labor of 4%, which sits well with the fierce ground campaign observable in seats with Labor margins of up to 7%.

Neither side is in any doubt as to the main source of lead in Labor’s saddlebags. As Labor advertising explicitly implores voters to stay focused on state issues, not just the Prime Minister but the entire cabinet has been told to keep its distance during the campaign. Party sources quoted in The Sunday Times congratulated Stephen Smith for his “fantastic” work in enforcing a ban on ministerial visits, with the few that couldn’t be avoided (by Bill Shorten, Penny Wong and Anthony Albanese) kept purposefully short and low-profile.

Sadly for Labor, that didn’t stop the recent series of damaging headlines for the Gillard government intruding at exactly the time the state campaign had counted on getting its message across.

Most worrying of all for Labor is the likelihood that its campaign fortunes have already peaked. The strategy of going early with advertising and major policy announcements may have allowed Labor to seize the initiative, but it has left it without the means to match a looming blitz by a Liberal Party that has largely kept its powder dry.

The West Australian today reports the combined ad spend by Labor and the unions has so far come in at over $1 million (albeit that not all union advertising has been expressly election-related), compared with just $115,000 for the Liberal Party.

With donations to Labor having run at less than half those of the Liberal Party in the previous financial year, it is clear Labor will face a stiff challenge getting heard over airwaves awash with Liberal advertising in the crucial period between now and polling day.

Galaxy: 56-44 to Liberal-Nationals in WA

The second major poll of the Western Australian election campaign, conducted between Tuesday and Thursday by Galaxy, produces very similar results to the first.

Two weeks out from the Western Australian election, the Sunday Times has published a Galaxy poll of 800 respondents conducted between Tuesday and Thursday which shows the Liberal-Nationals leading 56-44 on two-party preferred from primary votes of 35% for Labor, 43% for the Liberals, 7% for the Nationals and 9% for the Greens. The 2008 election results were Labor 35.9%, Liberal 38.4%, Nationals 4.9%, Greens 11.9% and 51.9-48.1 two-party preferred. The poll, which in all respects closely echoes the Newspoll result of a fortnight ago, nonetheless has Mark McGowan performing competitive as preferred premier, trailing Colin Barnett 49-43. Further findings:

• 54% rate the Liberals as better for managing the state economy and finances against 37% for Labor;

• 37% say Troy Buswell makes them less inclined to vote Liberal against 6% for more inclined;

• Labor leads 46% to 40% on having the best plan for public transport.

UPDATE: Further results here. Sadly for Labor, they trail 45-40 and 44-39 as the best party to handle their traditional strong suits of health and education, as well as trailing 50-33 on law and order. Labor leads 42-38 on protection of water resources and the environment.

WA election: upper house preference tickets and related matters

The WA election just got confusing-er with the release of upper house preference tickets and Labor’s direction of preferences in several key regional seats to the Liberals ahead of the Nationals.

UPDATE: The Greens have uploaded how-to-vote cards to their site, and there are two seats where they have Liberal ahead of Labor: North West Central and Warren-Blackwood. I’m not aware of any occasion of them doing this since the Queensland state election in 1995. They also have Liberal ahead of the Nationals everywhere except Albany, Collie-Preston, Mandurah, Murray-Wellington and Vasse, none of which are rated as particularly big chances for the Nationals.

UPDATE 2: How-to-vote cards are up on the Liberal site, and they have Labor ahead of the Greens in every seat except the only one where their preferences are likely to matter – Fremantle, where their order runs Greens, Carles, Labor. That increases the Greens’ chances of getting ahead of Labor in the event they finish ahead of the Liberals, which they could perhaps do if they receive a tight flow of preferences from Carles (though I wouldn’t bet on it).

Upper house preference tickets were lodged today, and can be viewed in full detail here, and in summary at the bottom of this post. The other preference news is Labor’s announcement on Sunday that it will direct preferences to the Liberals ahead of the Nationals in Warren-Blackwood, Central Wheatbelt, Eyre, North West Central, Geraldton and Kimberley. Labor voters’ compliance with how-to-vote cards ranges from the mid-twenties to the high-forties depending on how many people they have staffing polling booths, which in many of the relevant seats wouldn’t be much. Analysis of the situation in these seats in turn:

Warren-Blackwood. The Liberals apparently have a sniff here of unseating Nationals member Terry Redman, who has made some locals unhappy over his support for genetically modified crop trials. Labor’s redistribution-adjusted vote here is 18.3%, so that might mean about 5% of the vote flipping from Nationals to Liberal. Redman won by a handsome 17.3% margin over the Liberals in 2008, but the redistribution has seen the electorate lose rural areas in exchange for what for the Nationals is the alien territory of Margaret River.

Central Wheatbelt. This seat is being vacated by Brendon Grylls’ pitch at Pilbara and contested for the Nationals by Agricultural region MLC Mia Davies. Labor’s vote is 16.0% so it’s a roughly similar story to Warren-Blackwood, although their how-to-vote penetration here would be particularly poor.

Eyre. The Nationals fell 3.4% short of unseating Liberal member Graham Jacobs here in 2008 with help from Labor preferences. With a Labor vote of 19.3%, it’s looking quite a bit harder for them to go one better this time.

North West Central. It would be sweet revenge for Labor if their preferences cost Vince Catania his bid for re-election as a National after he defected from Labor, but in order for it to happen Labor will have to finish third in a seat which they won at the last election. The redistribution made the seat considerably stronger for the Nationals, producing post-redistribution primary votes of 32.7% for Labor, 29.3% for the Liberals and 22.8% for the Nationals. Catania is relying on a surge of Nationals support in any case, as is Brendon Grylls in neighbouring Pilbara, but if it comes too much at the expense of Labor he could then be fighting on a new front against the Liberals. Most of the voters in the electorate live in large-ish towns, so how-to-vote card penetration should be a lot better than in the aforementioned electorates, particularly if Labor is feeling motivated to punish Catania.

Geraldton. On paper you would think that the primary votes of 36.9% Liberal, 29.1% Labor and 19.3% Nationals have Liberal too high to be threatened and Labor too high to be overtaken by the Nationals. However, Labor pulling the plug on government funding for the nearby Oakajee project to help fund Metronet could cause them to take a hit, finish third and just conceivably put a surging Nationals over the line.

Kimberley. There’s a fair bit of chatter around that the Liberals are failing to gain traction here, so Labor finishing third seems an unlikely prospect. Nonetheless, this is an electorate where nothing can be taken for granted. The primary votes are 41.2% for Labor, 26.0% for Liberal and 18.3% for the Nationals.

Scattered thoughts on the upper house tickets:

• An already complex contest in Agricultural region has been made all the more headache-inducing by the preference tickets. The result here in 2008 was three Nationals, two Liberal and one Labor, but two of the elected Nationals are now running on a formidable looking independent ticket that would have to be odds on to get one member up and could conceivably win two. The field has also been flooded by a suspiciously large number of other independents, many with unorthodox preference allocations. The major players have also done unusual things with preferences, often treating candidates from the same parties very differently.

• The Liberals have put Labor last behind the Greens in every region except Mining & Pastoral. The Mining & Pastoral decision will only matter if Greens member Robin Chapple is grappling with Labor for the final spot, which will probably only happen if the ongoing Nationals tide causes a solid drop in the Labor vote. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to observe that the Victorian election tactic of putting the Greens last is not being followed.

• The Greens are however being put last by the Nationals and reams of minor right-wing candidates, with a few curious exceptions. The Shooters and Fishers Party has the Greens ahead of both the important major party candidates in South Metropolitan and ahead of Labor in North Metropolitan, which in both cases could conceivably mean the difference between defeat and victory for the Greens. The same can be said of Family First’s anomalous decision to favour them over Labor in East Metropolitan. For their part, the Greens have the Shooters and Fishers ahead of Labor’s number two candidate in Mining & Pastoral.

• I see that Keith Wilson, a minister in Labor governments in the Dowding/Lawrence era, who is running in South Metropolitan. He has run in the past as an independent in Fremantle, if my memory serves me correctly.

Now for my regular routine of boiling the preference tickets down to their essence. Preference tickets get less confusing when you remember that the only candidates who matter are those whose election in doubt. It really doesn’t matter where a candidate gets placed if they are certain to win, as is the case with the lead candidates for the major parties, or certain to not win, as I am deeming to be the case with all independents. Given each region elects six members, this typically means we are interested in the third Labor and Liberal candidates and the first Greens candidate.

However, the Nationals make life a lot more complicated in the non-metropolitan regions. This is especially the case in the confoundingly complex race for Agricultural region, where it is by no means clear whether our interest should be in the second or third Liberal or Nationals candidates, and where said candidates have often been put in very different positions on various players’ ticket orders. A lot of tickets also treat Nationals-turned-independent Max Trenorden differently from his fellow Nationals-turned-independent running mate, Philip Gardiner.

With all that in mind, here are the stripped back preference tickets, with extra simplicity to make life as easy as it can be in Agricultural.


LABOR: Shooters & Fishers; Trenorden/Gardiner; Greens; Nationals; Liberal.
FAMILY FIRST: Shooters & Fishers; Gardiner; Liberal; Nationals; Trenorden; Labor; Greens.
TRENORDEN: Shooters & Fishers; Liberal; Labor; Nationals; Greens.
ANTHONY FELS: Chown (Lib #2); Sounness (Nat #3); Shooters & Fishers; Trenorden/Gardiner; Labor; Ellis (Lib #3); Brown (Nat #2); Greens.
SHOOTERS & FISHERS: Gardiner; Chown (Lib #2); Nationals; Ellis (Lib #3); Trenorden; Labor; Greens.
AUSTRALIAN CHRISTIANS: Shooters & Fishers; Chown (Lib #2); Trenorden/Gardiner; Nationals; Ellis (Lib #3); Labor; Greens.
PETER SWIFT: Shooters & Fishers; Gardiner; Liberal; Trenorden; Nationals; Labor; Greens.
ANNE-MARIE COPELAND: Greens; Labor; Shooters & Fishers; Gardiner; Trenorden; Nationals; Liberal.
NATIONALS: Shooters & Fishers; Liberal; Trenorden/Gardiner; Labor; Greens.
LIBERAL: Shooters & Fishers; Trenorden; Brown (Nat #2); Gardiner; Sounness (Nat #3); Labor; Greens.
GREENS: Chown (Lib #2); Labor; Trenorden/Gardiner; Ellis (Lib #3); Brown (Nat #2); Sounness (Nat #3).
OSAMA RIFAI: Chown (Lib #2); Shooters & Fishers; Greens; Labor; Trenorden/Gardiner; Ellis (Lib #3); Nationals.
TONY BOZICH: Nationals; Greens; Liberal; Shooters & Fishers; Trenorden/Gardiner; Labor.
GREGORY KENNEY: Sounness (Nat #3); Shooters & Fishers; Trenorden/Gardiner; Labor; Chown (Lib #2); Ellis (Lib #3); Brown (Nat #2); Greens.


LIBERAL: Australian Christians; Family First; Shooters & Fishers; Greens; Labor.
GREENS: Labor; Liberal; Family First; Shooters & Fishers; Australian Christians.
SHOOTERS & FISHERS: Australian Christians; Family First; Liberal; Labor; Greens.
AUSTRALIAN CHRISTIANS: Family First; Shooters & Fishers; Liberal; Labor; Greens.
FAMILY FIRST: Australian Christians; Liberal; Shooters & Fishers; Greens; Labor.
LABOR: Greens; Shooters & Fishers; Australian Christians; Family First; Liberal.
CHUNG TU: Family First; Shooters & Fishers; Australian Christians; Greens; Labor; Liberal.
TOM HOYER: Australian Christians; Greens; Shooters & Fishers; Labor; Family First; Liberal.
JOE NARDIZZI: Australian Christians; Family First; Shooters & Fishers; Liberal; Labor; Greens.


FAMILY FIRST: Shooters & Fishers; Australian Christians; Liberal; Murie (ALP #2); Nationals; Hill (ALP #3); Greens.
LIBERAL: Australian Christians; Shooters & Fishers; Family First; Nationals; Labor; Greens.
AUSTRALIAN CHRISTIANS: Shooters & Fishers; Family First; Nationals; Liberal; Labor; Greens.
GREENS: Murie (ALP #2); Shooters & Fishers; Hill (ALP #3); Liberal; Nationals; Family First; Australian Christians.
NATIONALS: Shooters & Fishers; Australian Christians; Family First; Liberal; Labor; Greens.
LABOR: Greens; Shooters & Fishers; Family First; Australian Christians; Liberal; Nationals.
SHOOTERS & FISHERS: Australian Christians; Family First; Liberal; Nationals; Labor; Greens.
FRANK BERTOLA: Australian Christians; Shooters & Fishers; Family First; Liberal; Labor; Greens; Nationals.


LABOR: Greens; Shooters & Fishers; Australian Christians; Family First; Liberal.
LIBERAL: Australian Christians; Family First; Shooters & Fishers; Greens; Labor.
FAMILY FIRST: Australian Christians; Shooters & Fishers; Liberal; Labor; Greens.
GREENS: Labor; Liberal; Family First; Shooters & Fishers; Australian Christians.
SHOOTERS & FISHERS: Australian Christians; Family First; Liberal; Greens; Labor.
AUSTRALIAN CHRISTIANS: Family First; Shooters & Fishers; Liberal; Labor; Greens.
NOEL AVERY: Australian Christians; Shooters & Fishers; Greens; Family First; Liberal; Labor.
ANGELA W. SMITH: Greens; Liberal; Labor; Shooters & Fishers; Australian Christians; Family First.
DOUGLAS THORP: Australian Christians; Greens; Shooters & Fishers; Labor; Liberal; Family First.
MICHAEL TUCAK: Australian Christians; Greens; Liberal; Labor; Shooters & Fishers; Family First.


FAMILY FIRST: Australian Christians; Liberal; Shooters & Fishers; Labor; Greens.
SHOOTERS & FISHERS: Australian Christians; Family First; Greens; Liberal; Labor.
LABOR: Greens; Shooters & Fishers; Family First; Australian Christians; Liberal.
AUSTRALIAN CHRISTIANS: Family First; Shooters & Fishers; Liberal; Labor; Greens.
GREENS: Labor; Liberal; Family First; Australian Christians; Shooters & Fishers.
LIBERAL: Australian Christians; Family First; Shooters & Fishers; Greens; Labor.
JOHN TUCAK: Australian Christians; Family First; Shooters & Fishers; Greens; Liberal; Labor.
KEITH WILSON: Greens; Australian Christians; Family First; Shooters & Fishers; Labor; Liberal.
JIM GRAYDEN: Shooters & Fishers; Australian Christians; Family First; Greens; Liberal; Labor.


LABOR: Greens; Family First; Shooters & Fishers; Australian Christians; Liberal; Nationals.
NATIONALS: Family First; Australian Christians; Shooters & Fishers; Liberal; Labor; Greens.
SHOOTERS & FISHERS: Family First; Australian Christians; Nationals; Greens; Labor.
NATAPORN SRI-INNOP ROSS: Greens; Labor; Family First; Australian Christians; Shooters & Fishers; Liberal; Nationals.
LIBERAL: Family First; Australian Christians; Shooters & Fishers; Nationals; Greens; Labor.
FAMILY FIRST: Nationals; Australian Christians; Liberal; Greens; Labor.
GREENS: Labor; Family First; Nationals; Liberal; Australian Christians.
AUSTRALIAN CHRISTIANS: Family First; Shooters & Fishers; Nationals; Liberal; Labor; Greens.
DON HYLAND: Family First; Shooters & Fishers; Australian Christians; Labor; Liberal; Greens; Nationals.

WA election: ballot paper draw

With nominations closing earlier today, the Western Australian election has attracted six parties, 291 candidates for the lower house, and 165 for the upper house.

Nominations have closed for the March 9 Western Australian state election and the ballot paper orders have been drawn, so I hope you got your nominations in on time if you were hoping on running. Salient factoids:

• Labor, Liberal and the Greens are contesting every seat, with the Nationals contesting 17. There are also 42 Australian Christians candidates and 16 from Family First, plus 39 independents (some from unregistered parties such as the Socialist Alliance).

• There are 291 candidates for the lower house, ranging from three in Bateman, Jandakot, Victoria Park and Warnbro to seven in Balcatta, Bunbury, Churchlands, Mandurah, Vasse and Warren-Blackwood.

• There are 165 candidates for the upper house, including 41 in Agricultural, 24 from East Metropolitan, 26 from Mining & Pastoral, 25 from North Metropolitan, 23 from South Metroplitan and 26 from South West.

• The 41 for Agricultural is apparently a Legislative Council record, which isn’t bad going for a pocket borough of 85,766 voters which gets six upper house seats in addition to its four lower. This includes the formidale independent ticket of Max Trenorden, Phil Gardiner and Bill Cowan (two outgoing Nationals MPs and the brother of former Nationals leader Hendy Cowan). Former Liberal member and 2008 Family First candidate Anthony Fels is in the mix as an independent, presumably at the head of his own ticket (the website display doesn’t make this clear).

• I’m not seeing any big surprise late entrants as independents. I had been waiting to see who would emerge as the Max Trenorden candidate in Central Wheatbelt, but I’m not sure that there is one – the one independent candidate for the seat is Gerald Sturman, a former Labor candidate. Other noteworthy independents are Kwinana mayor Carol Adams, who very nearly thwarted Labor deputy leader Roger Cook’s entry into parliament in 2008; former MP Bernie Masters running against the man who unseated him for Liberal preselection in 2005, Troy Buswell, in Vasse; Cottesloe mayor Kevin Morgan, running against Colin Barnett in Cottesloe; and Nedlands mayor Max Hipkins, running against Bill Marmion in Nedlands in tandem with Morgan in opposition to local over-development.

UPDATE: From today’s West:

The Weekend West can reveal internal Liberal Party polling shows Metronet has gained traction in the community but that a Liberal-Nationals Government would be returned by a narrow margin.

According to the polling, the Liberals would win Forrestfield from Labor, while Brendon Grylls would win the Pilbara and Wendy Duncan would take Kalgoorlie for the Nationals.

However, Labor would win Morley and Swan Hills from the Liberals and pick up Fremantle from independent Adele Carles.

If that scenario plays out, Labor would hold 27 seats seats – three short of Government – and the Nationals would increase their representation to six seats, entrenching their balance of power position.

The polling also suggests that Wanneroo is in danger of falling to Labor and that the party’s Peter Watson may hang on in Albany.

Newspoll: 57-43 to Liberal-National in WA

Newspoll suggests Mark McGowan’s Metronet publicity offensive has done wonders for his personal ratings and poached votes from the Greens, without fundamentally improving Labor’s standing on two-party preferred.

GhostWhoVotes and James J relate that tomorrow’s Australian features a Newspoll result of state voting intention in Western Australia, conducted from 1100 respondents between Monday and Thursday. It shows Labor making little ground on the huge Liberal-National lead recorded for October-December, but Opposition Leader Mark McGowan achieving a substantial surge in personal support on the back of his Metronet publicity offensive. The voting intention figures in fact have Labor up five points on the primary vote to 35%, but seem to indicate that throwing the switch to public transport has caused voters to switch over from the Greens, who are down four points to 8%. Meanwhile, the Liberals are up two to 45% and the Nationals steady on 6%. That adds up to a Liberal-National lead of 57-43 on two-party preferred.

On personal ratings, Mark McGowan is up seven on approval to 51% and steady on disapproval at 26%, while he has closed the gap on preferred premier to a remarkably narrow 44-40, sharply down from 48-29 last time. Colin Barnett on the other hand is down two on approval to 47% and up five on disapproval to 42%. On the question of who will win, 59% say Liberal-Nationals against 25% for Labor.

See here for my overview of the campaign and its opening salvos, and here for my seat-by-seat election guide.

Western Australian election guide: March 9

The Poll Bludger’s seat-by-seat guide to Western Australia’s March 9 state election is now open for business.

With a little over four weeks to go, my guide to Western Australia’s March 9 state election, reviewing each of the state’s 59 lower house electorates, is open for business. Considerably more to follow …

UPDATE: And here’s the “considerably more” I was just talking about:

Labor goes into the election with 26 seats out of a parliament of 30, against 24 for the Liberals and five for the Nationals, with four independents. The numbers after the 2008 state election were Labor 28, Liberal 24 and Nationals four, with three independents. Since then, Labor has lost a further two seats, adding an extra seat each to the ranks of the Nationals (with North West MP Vince Catania’s defection to the Nationals in July 2009) and independents (Adele Carles having won the April 2009 by-election for the Greens, then parting company with the party the following year). It thus needs to find four new seats if it is put together a parliamentary majority after the election.

Two suggest themselves as low-hanging fruit: Fremantle, which is expected to revert to type after Carles’s heavily publicised travails, and Morley, where Labor was hindered in 2008 by the former Labor member’s decision to run as an independent and direct preferences to the Liberals. Morley has also been strengthened for Labor by redistribution, while the opposite has happened in Catania’s seat of North West (now re-named North West Central), making his decision to switch sides all the more opportune.

Seat-level factors are likely to cause Labor further difficulties holding its ground outside Perth. Sitting members are retiring in the state’s northernmost electorates of Pilbara and Kimberley, which are under determined challenge from the Nationals – especially Pilbara, which will be contested by party leader Brendon Grylls in an audacious hands-on bid to expand the party’s base. Labor also has an anomalous hold on the south coast regional city seat of Albany, which voted 67-33 against them at the federal election. Their 89-vote victory at the 2008 state election was aided by support for the then Premier, the locally born and bred Alan Carpenter. Taking all that into account, it can reasonably be surmised that Labor will need at least four Liberal-held seats in the metropolitan area if it is to be in serious contention.

Labor appears to be backing itself in the face of this formidable challenge, even if nobody else is (Sportsbet is currently offering $10 on a Labor win). Opposition Leader Mark McGowan has seized the early campaign agenda by promising four major rail projects will be built by 2019, as part of a scheme it collectively brands as MetroNet. This will cost $3.8 billion by Labor’s reckoning, and $6.4 billion by the Treasurer’s. While the promised benefits in terms of congestion are city-wide, the policy will be particularly handy for Labor in the Liberal-held marginals of Morley, Swan Hills, Jandakot, Riverton and Southern River, while also shoring up its own precarious seats of Balcatta, Forrestfield and West Swan.

Whatever its merits as policy – and there are doubts relating to cost, viability, planning and capacity to deliver on schedule – it’s impressively cogent as a political gambit. With Perth famously attracting 1000 new residents from interstate and overseas every week, congestion on the city’s roads is a sleeper issue that appears to have awoken just in time for the election. Patterson Market Research, which conducts the Westpoll series for The West Australian, last month found that Perth respondents rated “transport/congestion” the election’s single most important issue, the statewide response rate of 21% comparing with just 6% when the same question was posed in July.

As election promises go, a Labor plan to deal with the problem through a massive program of rail works is likely to ring truer in the public mind than most. Labor’s promotional material for MetroNet boasts of “110km of rail built under WA Labor”, compared with “7.5km of rail built under the Liberal Party (still under construction)”. Each of the last two Labor governments bequeated suburban rail lines built entirely during their time in office: the Joondalup line in the north, built between 1989 and 1992 under the Dowding-Lawrence government, and the Mandurah line in the south, built between 2004 and 2007 under Geoff Gallop and Alan Carpenter. The Mandurah line was contentious in conception and dogged along the way by industrial disputation and cost blowouts, but it has proved an outstanding success, with patronage of the rail system as a whole almost doubling since it opened. As the two lines straddle the Mitchell and Kwinana freeways which form the unavoidable backbone of Perth’s road network, each stands as a highly visible monument to Labor’s otherwise troubled periods in office.

The rail promises also dovetail neatly with the negative dimension of Labor’s campaign strategy, which seeks to exploit Barnett’s imperious image and western suburban detachment from daily life in Perth’s cheaper seats. One of the showpieces of Barnett’s agenda for the next term is a grand plan to redevelop the Swan River foreshore, which will tellingly have the effect of constricting one of the city’s main road thoroughfares. Another is the construction of a new football stadium at Burswood east of Perth to replace the decrepit Subiaco Oval (a.k.a. Patersons Stadium). While a vote-winning proposition in its own right, it is of narrative value to an opposition that says it can save money by pursuing an alternative proposal for a new stadium in Subiaco. In this context, Barnett seemed to misread the breeze last week when he opened the Liberal campaign with a $70 million plan to redevelop and beautify Perth’s most popular beaches.

For all that, there are good reasons why the odds being offered on Labor are as long as they are. Labor is yet to say how its rail promises will be funded, and whatever it comes up with either in terms of spending cuts or revenue raising will leave it exposed to a counter-attack. Pursuing a city-centric public transport strategy might also cost it seats it can’t afford to lose in the country, where the Nationals remain rampant after using their balance-of-power position to secure the extravagant Royalties for Regions program. In staking its campaign strategy on an early seizure of the initiative with its rail announcements, Labor has given the Liberal Party a full month to tactically respond. It did so yesterday by throwing the switch to law-and-order, with a promise to introduce mandatory sentencing for perpetrators of violent home invasions.

Labor will also be grappling with first-term sitting Liberal members in the key marginal seats who have had over four years to cultivate their personal votes, and with a Premier who projects a strong image of competence and reliability, whatever might be said against him. It will be a big task to persuade voters to dump him after a single term in favour of Mark McGowan, with whom the electorate at large still has little familiarity.