04/04/2014 - 14:59

Important Senate poll looms

04/04/2014 - 14:59

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Western Australian voters will return to the polls tomorrow for a Senate election re-run which could have major consequences for the federal government’s legislative agenda.

Important Senate poll looms

Western Australian voters will return to the polls tomorrow for a Senate election re-run which could have major consequences for the federal government’s legislative agenda.

The High Court in February declared the WA Senate election invalid after the Australian Electoral Commission revealed it had lost 1,375 votes during a recount following the September 2013 election.

The nation’s political leaders have since appeared to find a new affinity for WA, dispatching a raft of senior Canberra politicians and a deluge of advertising to drive their message home.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott this week brought his entire cabinet with him on an extended trip to WA, promising to reduce the cost of doing business by repealing the carbon tax and the mining tax.

Labor leader Bill Shorten meanwhile spent several days on the campaign trail in Perth accompanied by senior figures within his own party, including high-profile Perth MP Alannah MacTiernan.

With the balance of the upper house hanging on a knife-edge, it is vital for the government that it again wins three of the six WA Senate seats up for grabs if it is to secure passage of the carbon and mining tax repeals when the new Senate takes over in July.

ABC election analyst Antony Green last month said primary vote figures and preference flows pointed strongly to the Liberal Party winning three spots and Labor winning two, with either the Palmer United Party or the Greens tipped to win the sixth spot.

Mr Shorten this week led a rally of thousands of disgruntled educators in Perth, who closed more than 100 schools with a strike protesting cuts to education funding.

Labor’s campaign has been heavily focused on warning voters that the Abbott government intends to cut funding of health and education services, amid calls for belt-tightening by Treasurer Joe Hockey and Premier Colin Barnett as both prepare to hand down budgets next month.

However Labor has been forced to scramble to defend its lead candidate, union official Joe Bullock, after he admitted describing his party as untrustworthy and its members as "mad”, and it emerged that he had been convicted of assault in the 1990s.

Veteran political commentator Peter Kennedy said while the comments were unlikely to have a major impact in this late stage of the campaign, they could still influence undecided voters.

“It’s the last thing any party wants about any of their candidates on the eve of an election,” Mr Kennedy told Business News.

“The Labor Party would welcome that like a hole in the head. Whether that will be reflected in voting remains to be seen. I think it might have a small impact.”

Mr Bullock last year controversially took the number one spot on Labor’s WA Senate ticket at the expense of sitting Senator Louise Pratt, who was relegated to second spot.

While Senator Pratt secured a seat in the initial WA Senate count, she lost out in a subsequent recount.

Mr Bullock, who is the secretary of the WA branch of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association, is understood to hold considerable sway as a powerbroker within the Labor Party and holds conservative views on issues such as same-sex marriage that are out of step with the party’s national platform.

Labor’s chances of winning a second spot are likely to be bolstered by the fact that this is a rare opportunity for voters to pass judgment on the government before the next federal election in 2016.

Mr Kennedy said the government had made some “ham-fisted” decisions in the lead-up to the election, including Mr Abbott’s decision to reintroduce an honours system and Attorney-General George Brandis’s clumsy comments on the right to free speech.

“The risk for the government is that by-elections tend to go against the government of the day,” he said.

“That could strengthen Labor’s chances of getting the second spot.”

Clive Palmer’s Palmer United Party has invested considerable funds in television, newspaper and online advertising in the hopes of securing a third Senate seat, despite the low profile of lead candidate Zhenya Wang.

A stronger performance from Palmer United Party is likely to come at the expense of micro-parties such as the Australian Sports Party, whose candidate Wayne Dropulich secured a WA Senate spot in last year’s recount.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam has meanwhile courted young voters in a bid to keep his spot, performing a fundraising DJ set at a popular Perth nightspot and engaging with punters on social media.

Senator Ludlam’s chances of retaining his spot were “reasonably good” largely due to his energetic campaigning, Mr Kennedy said. 

“He has been available to the media, he’s been available at forums and he comes across as a reasonable candidate from the Greens – he certainly doesn’t come across as an extreme Green, and I think if Greens are going to be selected in Western Australia, that’s the way they have to present themselves,” he said.

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