Margin: Labor 5.8%
Location: Inner Perth, Western Australia
Outgoing member: Stephen Smith (Labor)
In a nutshell: The political retirement of Stephen Smith has provided an opening for a popular former state government minister in one of the party’s three remaining Western Australian seats.
The candidates (ballot paper order)
PAUL MICHAEL CONNELLY
EVELYN PATRICIA EDNEY
GABRIEL HASIB HARFOUCHE
The electorate of Perth extends north-eastwards from the city centre to accommodate an area bounded to the south by the Swan River, extending from Mount Lawley and Maylands to Morley and Bassendean. Held since 1993 by senior Rudd-Gillard government minister Stephen Smith, it emerged from the 2010 election as the safest of Labor’s three remaining Western Australian seats. Smith’s retirement at the coming election has provided a preselection opening for Alannah MacTiernan, a senior figure in the Gallop-Carpenter state government of 2001 to 2008 who unsuccessfully contested the federal seat of Canning in 2010.
An electorate bearing the name of Perth has existed since federation, with the entirety of the metropolitan area having been divided between it and Fremantle until the expansion of parliament in 1949. It then assumed more familiar dimensions, with Swan being drawn into the metropolitan area and Curtin created to accommodate the western suburbs. The seat was held from federation until 1922 by James Fowler, first as a Labor member and then as a Liberal and Nationalist following his defection in 1909. It thereafter remained in conservative hands until it was won by Tom Burke, father of Brian, in the Labor landslide of 1943. Burke held the seat until defeated in 1955 by Liberal candidate Fred Chaney Senior, whose son Fred Chaney Junior was a Fraser government minister, Senator and member for Pearce. Chaney was in turn unseated in 1969 by Joe Berinson, a junior minister in the Whitlam government and later a state Attorney-General. When the 1975 debacle cost Labor all its WA seats except for Fremantle, Berinson suffered a narrow defeat at the hands of Liberal candidate Ross McLean.
Redistributions in 1977 and 1990 respectively reoriented the seat westwards to the advantage of the Liberals and eastwards to the advantage of Labor. Australian hockey captain Ric Charlesworth was able to gain and hold the seat for Labor on the tougher boundaries after 1983, bequeathing to Stephen Smith a solid margin in 1993. It continued to trend in Labor’s favour thereafter, remarkably producing a slight positive swing amid the 1996 landslide, and surpassed Fremantle as Labor’s safest WA seat at the 2010 election. Smith became Foreign Minister when the Rudd government was elected in November 2007, but reluctantly accepted a move to defence to accommodate Kevin Rudd’s return to cabinet after the 2010 election. He hoped to return to his former role when Rudd resigned after his failed leadership challenge in February 2012, but it instead went to Bob Carr who concurrently filled the Senate vacancy created by the surprise resignation of Mark Arbib. On the evening of Rudd’s successful leadership challenge in June 2013, Smith announced he would bow out at the election.
Early contenders for the ensuing preselection included Tim Hammond, Slater & Gordon lawyer and unsuccessful candidate for Swan in 2010, and Matt Keogh, vice-president of the WA Law Society. However, both agreed to withdraw to smooth the path for Alannah MacTiernan, whose political ambitions had been thwarted on a number of fronts since the defeat of the Carpenter government in 2008. MacTiernan entered state parliament in 1993 and served as Planning and Infrastructure Minister throughout Labor’s years in office from 2001 and 2008, in which time she oversaw projects including the construction of the Perth to Mandurah rail line. However, she developed a frosty relationship with party powerbrokers and was not a contender for the leadership after the 2008 election defeat, despite a poll conducted in 2009 showing her the favoured candidate of 41% compared with 15% for her nearest rival.
MacTiernan instead sought a berth in federal politics by running at the 2010 election in Canning, which partly corresponded with her state seat of Armadale and appeared a promising prospect for Labor at the time of her preselection. However, the environment had considerably deteriorated by the time of the election and she fell 2.2% short, although she strongly bucked the statewide trend in halving Liberal incumbent Don Randall’s margin. In October 2011 she was elected mayor of the inner-city municipality of Vincent. MacTiernan made national headlines on the night of the March 2013 state election when she responded to Labor’s heavy defeat by calling on Julia Gillard to resign.
The Liberal candidate at the coming election is Darryl Moore, a former mining engineer now involved in “investing in and managing the family’s commercial and industrial real estate portfolio”, who won a June 2012 preselection ahead of Geoff Hourn, a former lieutenant-colonel in the Australian Intelligence Corps.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.