Margin: Nationals 3.6% versus Liberal
Location: Southern Regional, Western Australia
Outgoing member: Tony Crook (Nationals)
The candidates (ballot paper order)
MICHAEL JOHN SALT
MICHAEL ANTHONY LUCAS
Covering rural and remote areas in the south of Western Australia, O’Connor delivered the WA Nationals a House of Representatives seat in 2010 for the first time since 1974, with the unseating of 30-year Liberal veteran Wilson Tuckey. The winning candidate was Tony Crook, who will bow out at the coming election after a single term. Crook’s win followed a redistribution which fundamentally rearranged the state’s remote areas, abolishing the vast seat of Kalgoorlie and dividing its territory between O’Connor and the new seat of Durack. This saw O’Connor absorb a vast swathe of the state’s south-east, including Esperance and the Goldfields. Whereas the whole of the state’s “Wheatbelt” had previously been in O’Connor, a transfer of 38,000 voters in its northern half (including Merredin) to Durack was required to balance its gains elsewhere. O’Connor continued to encompass Albany, the southern Wheatbelt towns of Narrogin, Wagin and Katanning, and the South West region forestry towns of Bridgetown and Manjimup.
O’Connor was created at the 1980 election, its territory having previously been covered by Moore and Canning. It was gained for the Liberals in 1980 by parliamentary newcomer Wilson Tuckey, who owed his “Ironbar” nickname to an assault conviction over an incident involving a length of steel cable and an Aboriginal patron of his Carnarvon hotel. Tuckey’s win was assisted by a schism in the state National Party, which resulted in two separate organisations fielding rival candidates. Emnity with the Nationals was to emerge as a theme of Tuckey’s career, with the Nationals repeatedly placing him behind various minor candidates in their preference recommendations. The Nationals caused Tuckey little trouble electorally over the years, consistently finishing third behind Labor on occasions when they fielded a candidate. That nearly changed in 2007, but Tuckey’s primary vote remained strong enough that he would have comfortably prevailed even if the Nationals had managed to edge ahead of Labor and absorb their preferences.
Tuckey was 75 at the time of the 2010 election, and regarded in Canberra as an increasingly erratic figure. While the redistribution had in one sense done him a good turn by dividing the Nationals heartland between two electorates, it was largely negated by the Nationals’ successful 2008 state election strategy of making a broad appeal to regional areas beyond the party’s Wheatbelt heartland. Among the areas where inroads were made for for the first time was the Goldfields, which Tuckey had never represented. It was here that Tuckey suffered the most damage, the Kalgoorlie-Boulder booths collectively going against him 63-37. However, he was also outpolled in Albany, and faced a roughly even split elsewhere. Crook had no trouble overtaking the Labor candidate, with the Nationals vote up 19.7% to 28.9% and Labor down 9.2% to 17.1%. Tuckey easily led on the primary vote, which fell 10.4% to 38.4%, but an 80% share of Labor and Greens preferences saw Crook prevail at the final count with a margin of 3.6%.
Tuckey reacted to his defeat by saying he did “not intend to be gracious at all”, and declared Crook to be a “nobody”. Crook had in fact been the chairman of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and was the state election candidate for Kalgoorlie in 2008. His status as a nobody was addressed soon enough by the circumstances of the election result, which placed him as a non-aligned member in a hung parliament, the WA Nationals having campaigned as an independent party that would not “report, answer and take direction from Warren Truss”. However, few were surprised when Crook, after a fortnight of prevarication, announced he would support a Coalition government on confidence and supply. He nonetheless sat on the cross-benches until May 2012, when he joined the Nationals party room while remaining absent from joint Coalition meetings.
Crook announced his intention to bow out at the election in April, complaining of the demands of travel from Western Australia to Canberra and his desire to spend more time with his family. The party’s new candidate is William Chub Witham, a Perth-based geologist and managing director of Waratah Resources, who won preselection ahead of Mount Barker farmer Ken Drummond. Their candidate is Katanning farmer Rick Wilson, who won an April 2011 preselection vote over Cranbrook Shire president Doug Forrest and Kalgoorlie pastoralist Ross Wood.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.