Margin: Liberal 19.4%
Region: North Metropolitan
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Electorate analysis: Colin Barnett’s electorate of Cottesloe extends northwards from the mouth of the Swan River at North Fremantle through coastal Cottesloe and Swanbourne and riverfront Mosman Park, Peppermint Grove and Claremont, together with Mount Claremont inland of the Cottesloe Golf Club in the north. The affluent electorate has provided a safe home for three long-term Liberal members, starting with Ross Hutchison on its creation in 1950 and followed by two party leaders: Bill Hassell from 1977 to 1990, and Colin Barnett thereafter. Barnett served in the crucial resources and development and energy portfolios throughout the Court government of 1993 and 2001, and assumed the leadership upon its defeat despite resistance from powerful elements in the party. Richard Court went so far as to approach Julie Bishop with a plan for her to succeed him through a swap of seats with Barnett, succeeding only in infuriating Barnett who hadn’t been informed.
Barnett’s leadership went unchallenged throughout the first term in opposition, but he achieved what was essentially only a status quo result at the 2005 election, although this appears a very impressive performance compared with what first-term conservative oppositions were achieving in other states. He nonetheless determined to bow out as leader and go to the back bench, after which the leaderships of Matt Birney, Paul Omodei and Troy Buswell progressively failed in his wake. Moves to draft Barnett back to the leadership were intermittently reported throughout the attendant turmoil, but he appeared to put the idea to rest in November 2007 when he announced he would not seek another term. He was succeeded unopposed for preselection by Deidre Willmott, policy director for the Chamber of Commerce and Industry and a former chief-of-staff to Richard Court.
The seeds for Barnett’s eventual return were sown with the collapse in public and party support for Troy Buswell after the story he had sniffed a female staffer’s chair broke the following April. Backers of a spill motion pleaded without success for Barnett to put his name forward, resulting in the motion to be voted down by a party room unconvinced by the alternatives. He eventually shifted his position in July after polling continued to worsen, indicating he would consider returning if he had unanimous support. It became apparent that the ABC (Anyone But Colin) faction had not entirely gone away when Barnett received stern rebukes from party president Barry Court and his predecessor Bill Hassell, who insisted Buswell would continue to lead the party. However, concurrent reports suggested Buswell was considering a voluntary exit pending the results of internal polling, which indeed showed he would mean the difference between defeat and victory. Buswell made his surprise resignation announcement on Monday, August 4 and was officially succeeded by Barnett two days later, prompting Alan Carpenter to call the election the next day.
This left unresolved the position of Deidre Willmott, who was told she would be accommodated elsewhere. However, Willmott was not attracted by either of the offers on the table an upper house seat in North Metropolitan or Cottesloe’s neighbouring seat of Nedlands, which would have pitted her against Liberal-turned-independent Sue Walker and she was instead given what was seen as a consolation prize in the position of of chief-of-staff to Barnett. Willmott was again passed by for preselection in the months after the state election when she unsuccessfully nominated to replace outgoing Senator Chris Ellison. She moved on from the chief-of-staff position in February 2010 before leaving the employment of the government altogether the following June.
Analysis written by William Bowe. All post-redistribution margins are as calculated by Antony Green at ABC Elections. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.