27/07/2004 - 22:00

Joe Poprzeczny: State Scene - Playing on the marginals

27/07/2004 - 22:00

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Goeff Gallop-led Labor is now scanning the horizon of spring 2004 and summer 2004-05 in search of a date that best suits Labor for a State election.

Goeff Gallop-led Labor is now scanning the horizon of spring 2004 and summer 2004-05 in search of a date that best suits Labor for a State election.

All sorts of matters are being canvassed, including specially published polls and a battery of in-depth tailored party commissioned ones to help determine and refine the contours of Labor’s forthcoming campaign.

Scheduled public spending announcements will also play a key role, as will the still-to-be-announced date of the Federal election.

In the Colin Barnett-led conservative camp the call to arms has necessarily meant being ready from as early as October to late March 2005, primarily due to party director Paul Everingham’s efforts.

And State Scene can report both the Liberal and Nationals camps are well prepared, even if inadequately bankrolled.

But is preparation enough?

The best way to help answer that question is to look at certain numbers and overlay them with some educated guesses.

Politics isn’t an exact science but one can refine matters by considering a range of relevant issues to help make some fairly accurate guesstimates, though it should always be remembered that the unexpected can always occur in democracies.

The most recent example was India’s 2004 election in which the Hindu Nationalistic BJP was unexpectedly toppled by a broadly based left-of-centre Congress Party coalition.

The first and most important fact in Western Australian elections is the number 29.

Twenty nine is a half plus one of WA’s 57 lower house seats that any party or coalition must win so their leader can advise the governor a government can be formed on the floor of the legislative assembly.

Teams winning that number of seats would have 28 MPs on that floor, the same as its opponent.

But the 29-strong group holds power because the crucial ‘plus one’ – the 29th MP – would become assembly speaker, and would back the governing side with casting votes.

Labor, because of the big February 2001 landslide against the Court-Barnett-led Liberals, presently has 32 MPs with one Independent Labor member, Larry Graham, meaning there are 33 non-conservatives.

That’s three or four more than required, depending on how you count Mr Graham.

The minority conservative, or oppositionist, side is somewhat more complicated.

After the landslide of February 2001 it emerged with 16 Liberals, five Nationals, plus three Independents – Phillip Pendal, Liz Constable and Janet Woollard – so 24 MPs, five short of the magical 29.

Since then the Liberals have lost another with the resignation of Vasse MP Bernie Masters to Independent ranks, meaning the oppositionists now have 15 Liberals, five Nationals and four Independents.

One advantage of losing in a landslide is that oppositions go into the next election with fewer marginal seats than the new government.

What this means for the coming 2004-05 election season is that Mr Barnett enters the campaign with only three marginals – Darling Range (0.5 per cent), Kalgoorlie (1.0), and Kingsley (2.5).

In light of these margins it’s not surprising Labor is cooking up a battle plan to strike hard at these three seats.

However, of these three, Labor is unlikely to take the most vulnerable, Darling Range, because it dishonored undertakings to renovate and upgrade Kalamunda Hospital, something that has angered many voters in the hills.

Labor, therefore, badly let down its candidate, local councillor and teacher, Geof Stallard, who contested Darling Range in 1996 and again in 2001.

In the 2001 contest Mr Stallard hardly campaigned and was away from the electorate for much of the campaign, yet came within 100 votes of bannishing Colin Barnett confidant John Day into retirement.

But Labor could well snap up Kalgoorlie and/or Kingsley this time around.

Kalgoorlie’s Liberal MP Matt Birney won in 2001 largely because a huge number of Labor backers, including former Goldfields Labor MPs such as Graeme Campbell and Mark Nevill, supported him.

Being the incumbent certainly helps but whether that’s enough in light of the absence of a split in Labor ranks this time around is anyone’s guess.

Moreover, Mr Birney had the backing of a no-longer operational Goldfield’s student ginger or prankster group, the Wowsers, who heavily preferenced him with their several hundred votes.

Kalgoorlie promises to be a very chin-to-chin tussle.

Kingsley also has quite unusual localised peculiarities.

Outgoing Liberal Cheryl Edwardes has retired so her Liberal powerbroker husband, Colin, could finally launch his long planned parliamentary career.

Mrs Edwardes is in line for an annual indexed pension of $115,000 and husband Colin will draw an MP’s salary of about the same, meaning they’ll together bring in from the public purse in the order of a quarter of a million dollars annually.

Whether Kingsley voters warm to such a lucrative family turnaround arrangement is to be seen.

If Mr Edwardes loses Kingsley for the Liberals, he’d also be losing it for the Edwardes family.

Moreover, Mr Edwardes can expect to have at least one Independent Liberal challenging him, in part because he played such a key role in ensuring upper house Liberal Alan Cadby was dumped at preselection.

That issue, the plush Edwardes family swap-around earning factor, and the fact that Labor has a credible candidate in Wanneroo councillor and small business owner, Judith Hughes, promises to make Mr Edwardes’ life extremely torrid until midnight of election day, and probably thereafter.

Labor, on the other hand, is defending an enormous 10 marginals, more than three times the Liberals.

They are Bunbury (0.2), Swan Hills (0.3), Murray (0.7), Mindarie (1.2), Collie-Wellington (2.6), Geraldton (2.7), Riverton, Wanneroo and Joondalup (3.1), and Albany (3.7).

If you can find anyone prepared to put money on the Liberals winning more than two of these, make the bet.

Returning, therefore, to that number 29, the best the conservatives seem to be looking to win under this analysis is just 26.

But if they were to drop Kalgoorlie and/or Kingsley they’d even more convincingly remain in the same spot – namely, opposition.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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