11/10/2005 - 22:00

Joe Poprzeczny: State Scene -Conservatives have it all to do

11/10/2005 - 22:00

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Last week, State Scene was fortunate to sneak a look at what could become Western Australia’s non-metropolitan lower house electoral boundaries at the 2009 election.

Last week, State Scene was fortunate to sneak a look at what could become Western Australia’s non-metropolitan lower house electoral boundaries at the 2009 election.

The WA Electoral Commission drew them up some time back and quietly distributed the maps to political parties, which have had them under wraps.

But State Scene’s access to the information was brief, just enough time for a quick scan and the jotting down of some notes.

Unfortunately the maps don’t include population or voter statistics, so what’s being reported is based on a quick assessment with some helpful comments from a learned expert.

As those who have followed Labor’s protracted one-vote-one-value campaign will no doubt realise, there’s been a marked trimming in the number of non-metropolitan seats, meaning fewer safe conservative parliament places.

While currently there are 23 non-metropolitan seats, at the 2009 election there will only be 17.

Although the boundaries shown are labelled ‘notional’, they are the best guide we have of the forthcoming electoral arrangement.

They are likely to approximate the new boundaries.

According to State Scene’s calculations, Labor would be well placed to win at least five of the 17 non-metropolitan seats, with a good chance of taking seven.

Labor’s best five are Kimberley, Pilbara, Eyre, Mandurah, and Murchison, in that order.

The two likely ones are Dundas and Collie-Wellington, to which we’ll return because both are interesting.

That, however, leaves 10 certainties for the conservatives – Liberals and Nationals – in non-metropolitan WA.

Of these at least eight will go to the Liberals, leaving just two for the Nationals.

What we can therefore say is that Labor’s electoral changes have hastened the National Party’s demise.

The two virtually definite new Nationals seats are Roe and Avon, with the former to be contested by Nationals leader Brendan Grylls.

But there are complications with Avon, currently held by former leader Max Trenorden.

Remember, the Nationals treated him shabbily this year, so he’s not on good terms with party colleagues.

Parliament is currently abuzz with rumours linked to the coming redistribution.

One of these suggests the Liberals may tell Mr Trenorden they’re prepared to endorse him as their Avon candidate, something the Nationals aren’t intending because they want their deputy, Terry Waldron, to inherit it.

The Nationals’ desire to ensure Mr Waldron’s political career continues while Mr Trenorden’s dies is at the crux of that party’s current turmoil.

Several advantages would follow for the Liberals if Mr Trenorden joined them.

Most Liberals find Mr Trenorden likeable so would have no trouble seeing him in their ranks during 2009-13, and with a ministry if the unexpected happened and they win government in 2009.

Secondly, such a ploy would leave the Nationals with just one lower house MP, current leader Mr Grylls, something the Liberals would walk miles to see happen.

And when Mr Trenorden retires in 2013 the Liberals would be in the box seat of holding Avon into the foreseeable future.

Mr Trenorden could, of course, become an independent, and, with Liberal preferences, would probably hold Avon.

But that’s riskier than formally linking with the Liberals.

Now, back to Dundas, since this is the new seat Liberal leader Matt Birney is logically in line to contest since it covers his current 67 square kilometre seat of Kalgoorlie.

The proposed Dundas, which would include part of Kalgoorlie and expand into southern segments of the Goldfields, would become a seat of more than 500,000sq km.

Sometime soon Mr Birney will need to sit his number crunching advisers down to seriously assess his chances of winning the new Dundas.

He could decide he can win, and may even do so in 2009.

But even if he did, it’s a huge seat, well away from Perth, and would be marginal for his entire political career.

Because of such drawbacks, parliament’s rumour mill says he’ll seriously consider jumping ship for a safe city seat.

Unfortunately the electoral commission hasn’t yet released notional metropolitan maps – or if it has, State Scene hasn’t seen them – so nothing definitive can be said in this regard.

But this much can be stated: Mr Birney is said to have bought a house in South Perth, and that’s blue ribbon Liberal territory. To acquire the plum seat of South Perth he’d need to smooth talk new Liberal MLA, John McGrath, into standing aside, something that’s easier said than done.

The history of MPs standing aside for premiership hopefuls isn’t a happy one. All in all we can therefore say Mr Birney’s premiership aspirations face rocky times.

Another option would be to cajole former Liberal leader, Colin Barnett, out of blue ribbon Cottesloe.

That’s likely to be as barren a path because many suspect Mr Barnett continues to aspire to returning as leader for another crack at WA’s top political job.

But they are not the only Liberal headaches.

Just as the Nationals face seeing their deputy, Mr Waldron, without a safe new seat to flee to because of Mr Trenorden’s likely intransigence, the Liberals are in a similar boat with their former deputy, Dan Sullivan, who currently holds Leschenault, which the maps shows is to be scrapped.

Mr Sullivan could aspire to gain endorsement for nearby safe Vasse – something new Liberal MP Troy Buswell wouldn’t take lying down.

Or he could opt for Capel – something new Liberal MP Steve Thomas is likely to doggedly fight off.

He’s thus left with the option – if he doesn’t go for a Perth seat like Mr Birney may need to – of contesting the new Collie-Wellington seat, which Labor believes its Mick Murray could win.

What one can therefore say is that the WA Electoral Commission’s notional rural boundaries show Labor’s electoral changes as having hastened the demise of the Nationals and put the squeeze onto Mr Birney and former Liberal deputy, Mr Sullivan.

Not a bad interim likely outcome for Labor, and certainly one causing considerable angst and turmoil across conservative ranks.

When State Scene eventually scans the metropolitan boundaries, some definite statements will be able to be made about the likely outcome of election 2009.

If, as some within Liberal ranks fear, metropolitan Perth will leave them with very few blue ribbon seats and lots of difficult ones to win, the prospects of seeing a conservative government in the near future look truly bleak.

Labor would need to win 25 of the 42 metropolitan seats if it secures just five of the rural ones, and 23 if it should win seven, to form government.

Put otherwise, the conservatives need to win 18 of the 42 metropolitan seats if they win 12 rural ones, and 20 if they should lose seven to Labor, to form government.

Finding those 18 or up to 20 metropolitan seats has many Liberals gravely concerned.

Because of that, many top Liberals are realising they need to roll up their sleeves and start coming up with some truly imaginative and appealing policies for election 2009.

Otherwise it’s more dark years in opposition.

The days of pithy press releases and 30-second evening TV news grabs by a leader are no substitute for such hard, imaginative yakka, as Mr Barnett’s leadership term so well demonstrated.

It is because he relied on fighting Labor not with polices but press releases and TV appearances that he found himself having to so desperately grasp at that $2 billion canal, which left him in opposition, even if only narrowly, and under boundaries that favoured the Liberals not Labor.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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