The Poll Bludger



Margin: Liberal 7.6%
Region: Inner Perth, Western Australia

In a nutshell: Redistribution and successive strong Liberal performances have blown out the margin of late, but Swan has a long history as a knife-edge marginal seat.

Candidates in ballot paper order




Greens (bottom)

Australian Christians

Labor (centre)

Liberal (top)

Swan is a traditionally marginal seat in Perth’s inner south-east where the Liberals have built up a solid margin over recent elections, in keeping with statewide trends. A division in the electorate between an affluent and Liberal-voting west and a lower-income, Labor-voting east is reflected in the corresponding state seats of South Perth and Victoria Park, which are respectively safe for Liberal and Labor. The combination of the two areas has often left Swan finely balanced, with the result decided by margins of 164 votes in 2007, 104 votes in 2004 and 294 votes in 1993.

The electorate is bounded to the north by the Swan River and to the west and south by the Canning River, extending from South Perth and Como in the west through Victoria Park and Belmont to the north-east, and due eastwards through Bentley and Cannington. The latest redistribution has reduced the Labor-voting south-eastern end of the electorate, sending 4000 voters in Beckenam to Hasluck, 3200 in Langford to the new seat of Burt, and 5500 in Ferndale and Lynwood to Tangney, balanced by a gain of 8000 voters around High Wycombe from Hasluck. The changes turn the Liberal margin of 6.5% at the 2013 election into a notional margin of 7.6%.

Swan has existed in name since federation, but until 1922 it covered the state’s non-metropolitan south-west, with the modern area of Swan accommodated by Fremantle. Swan was held from federation until 1918 by Sir John Forrest, explorer, colonial Premier, federation founding father and senior minister in early non-Labor governnments. In 1922 it was redrawn to encompass South Perth together with the city’s hinterland, but the former area returned to Fremantle in 1937, and Swan again became a mostly rural seat. The watershed came with the enlargement of parliament in 1949, since which time it has covered most of its current territory.

Labor only held Swan for two brief periods prior to 1969, after which it was held by Adrian Bennett until the 1975 landslide, and then for the Liberals by John Martyr. The seat returned to the Labor fold in 1980 with the election of 32-year-old Kim Beazley Jr, future party leader and son of Whitlam government minister Kim Beazley Sr. Beazley gained the seat with an 8.1% swing and strengthened his hold with a further swing of 8.6% in 1983, but the expansion of parliament in 1984 cut his margin by 4.1% by transferring inner eastern suburbs around Bassendean to Perth. A sharp swing against Labor in 1990 further pared back the margin, and Beazley began to cast around for a safer seat after surviving at the 1993 election by 294 votes. A safety hatch opened when Wendy Fatin retired in the somewhat safer seat of Brand at the 1996 election, which Beazley was nonetheless able to retain by just 387 votes.

Meanwhile, Swan was won for the Liberals at the 1996 election by Don Randall, who was unseated by a 6.4% swing to Labor in 1998 and returned in 2001 as member for Canning, where he remained until his death last year. Labor’s Kim Wilkie held Swan for the next three terms, barely surviving a poor performance by Labor across Perth in 2004 despite a disastrous campaign for his Liberal opponent. A correction after the Liberals’ under-performance in 2004 may explain the seat’s bucking of the trend in 2007, when it was one of only two seats in the country to switch from Labor to Liberal, the other being the northern Perth seat of Cowan.

Swan has since been held for the Liberals by Steve Irons, a former WA league footballer and proprietor of an air-conditioning business. Irons’ tiny margin was strengthened by successive swings of 2.8% in 2010 and 4.0% in 2013, but his electoral successes have not won him promotion from the back bench. He is believed to have supported Malcolm Turnbull in his successful leadership challenge last year, and is said to be particularly close to Scott Morrison, whom Tony Abbott’s backers accused of acquiescing to the challenge without actively supporting it. Labor’s candidate for the election is Tammy Solonec, an indigenous lawyer who ran for the Greens at the 2013 state election in an unwinnable position on an upper house ticket.

Analysis by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.

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