Prior to 2013, Western Australia exhibited remarkable consistency through the era of six-seat half-Senate elections that began in 1990, with eight successive elections returning three seats for the Liberals, two for Labor and one for either the Democrats or the Greens. Then came the extraordinary event of the 2013 election, where Labor's vote collapsed to the extent that it was unable to win a second seat, and preference harvesting delivered a seat to the little-known Australian Sports Party on the initial count. However, the result was overturned after the Australian Electoral Commission proved unable to conduct a recount because 1375 ballot papers had been lost, causing a fresh election to be held the following April. Labor's vote then fell even further, but the initial result was disturbed only in that the Palmer United Party won a seat in place of the Australian Sports Party.
The Greens have enjoyed a consistent record of success in the state, where they established an early foothold as a legacy of Jo Vallentine's election for the Nuclear Disarmament Party in 1984, and re-election with the Vallentine Peace Group in 1987. Vallentine became the inaugural representative of Greens WA when it was founded in 1990, which would remain separate from the national Greens organisation until 2003. The party would win seats at the elections of 1990 and 1993, before being eclipsed by the Australian Democrats through the elections of 1996, 1998 and 2001.
While the Nationals are a substantial presence in state politics in Western Australia, they have not won a Senate seat since 1975, or held one since 1978, and their only success in the House of Representatives after 1974 came with Tony Crook's win against Liberal member Wilson Tuckey in O'Connor in 2010. The Liberals and Nationals have never run joint tickets in the state, and the Nationals fell short when presented with their best opportunity in decades by the lower quota at the 2016 double dissolution election.
The 2016 double dissolution resulted in the election of five Liberal, four Labor and three minor party Senators, mirroring in the outcome in New South Wales, Victoria in Queensland. In Western Australia's case, the three minor party Senators included two from the Greens and one from One Nation. The allocation of short and long terms gave three six year terms to the Liberals, two to Labor and one to the Greens, while the three year terms went two each to Liberal and Labor, and one each to the Greens and One Nation.
The two Liberal Senators allocated three-year terms after the 2016 double dissolution were Linda Reynolds, who is recontesting, and Chris Back, who resigned in 2017. Back's casual vacancy was filled by Slade Brockman, who now holds second position on the Liberal ticket.
Linda Reynolds was first elected from third position in 2013, and re-elected from fourth position in 2016. Before entering politics, Reynolds was progressively chief-of-staff to former Senator Chris Ellison, a project director with defence company Raytheon, deputy federal director of the Liberal Party, and an adjutant-general with the Australian Army. Reynolds lined up in support of Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison against Peter Dutton in the party's August 2018 leadership crisis, and complained in the Senate between the two votes that the process was being attended by “bullying and intimidation”. She has since been rapidly promoted, first to parliamentary secretary rank, then to cabinet as Defence Industry Minister after Steven Ciobo's resignation in March.
Slade Brockman is a former chief-of-staff to Senator Mathias Cormann who was preselected to replace Chris Back in July 2017, being chosen ahead of former state MPs Michael Sutherland and Mark Lewis. Brockman was one of five Western Australian Liberals who defected from Malcolm Turnbull to Peter Dutton after the first leadership ballot last August, in the mistaken expectation that decisive support would coalesce behind him.
The third candidate on the Liberal ticket is Matt O'Sullivan, chief operating officer of Andrew Forrest's GenerationOne indigenous youth employment scheme, and unsuccessful candidate for the lower house seat of Burt in 2016. O'Sullivan secured a narrow 56-54 win in the preselection vote ahead of Trish Botha, co-founder with her husband of an evangelical church in Perth's northern suburbs. The closeness of the result surprised party observers, given the backing O'Sullivan had received from Christian conservative numbers man Nick Goiran. By one account, Botha attracted support from “non God-botherers” opposed to Goiran's alliance with Mathias Cormann and Peter Collier, who may not have been aware of the messianic language employed by Botha's church.
The two Labor Senators whose positions are falling vacant after they were allocated three-year terms are Patrick Dodson and Louise Pratt, both of whom are seeking re-election. In first position is Patrick Dodson, who came to the Senate in May 2016 by replacing Joe Bullock, after he resigned over the party's support for same-sex marriage. Dodson is a leader of the Yawuru people from Broome, and came to politics with a high public profile as a former chair of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation. His preselection was a “captain's pick” by Bill Shorten, and he was immediately elevated to parliamentary secretary rank. Shorten announced early in the election campaign that Dodson would be made Indigenous Affairs Minister if Labor won government, indicating that he expected the party room to elevate him to cabinet.
Louise Pratt entered politics as a member of the state's upper house in 2001, having previously worked as an electorate officer to Carmen Lawrence while achieving prominence in Perth's gay community. She won preselection for top position on the Senate ticket at the 2007 election with backing from the Left faction Australian Manufacturing Workers Union. Her demotion to second place in 2013 reflected a deal between the Right faction Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association and Left faction United Voice that secured the position for Joe Bullock, a former state secretary of the former. This formed part of a deal that delivered a casual vacancy to Sue Lines, the nominee of United Voice. However, Pratt's second position proved a losing prospect for the first time in 2013, both at the initial election and the special election held after the result was voided in April 2014. She was able to return at the 2016 double dissolution election after securing fourth position on the ticket, and was immediately restored to shadow parliamentary secretary rank, which she had previously held from the 2013 election defeat through to her departure from the Senate in mid-2014.
Third on Labor's ticket is Alana Herbert, an organiser for the Right faction Australian Workers Union. Herbert was in the news in April over a complaint she had lodged alleging rivals sought to blackmail her by threatening to release intimate images of her if she did not withdraw from a union election.
The lead Greens candidate is its 24-year-old Senator, Jordon Steele-John, who was the third candidate on the party's ticket at the 2016 election, and was accordingly elected to the second seat on the recount that followed Scott Ludlam's disqualification in October 2017. Steele-John uses a wheelchair due to cerebral palsy, and made his name as a disability advocate. He made headlines in February after successfully calling for a royal commission to be held into abuse of the disabled, having taken to the floor of the House of Representatives to heckle Scott Morrison over his initial reticence.
One Nation's incumbent is Peter Georgiou, a former electrician who was the second candidate on the party's ticket in 2016. This would eventually place him in the Senate after the election of the lead candidate, Rod Culleton Georgiou's brother-in-law was declared invalid in February 2017, on the grounds that he was facing sentencing for a criminal offence at the time (later overturned, but that did not avail him). Culleton had by that time quit One Nation to sit as an independent, so the transfer of the seat to Georgiou restored the seat to the party. Had it been otherwise, the only one of the four One Nation Senate seats from 2016 that would now remain to the party would be that of Pauline Hanson. Georgiou raised eyebrows on the right at the time of his elevation by saying he was “quite fond of Paul Keating in his heyday”, but has otherwise kept a fairly low profile.
Rod Culleton will be seeking a comeback at the election through his own Great Australian Party, an endeavour that has failed to capture much attention from the media. The Nationals ticket will be headed by Nick Fardell, a Kalgoorlie electrical contractor.