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Lack of brand loyalty could break Beazley

CERTAIN questions make politicians uneasy.

Try asking whether their children attend a State or private school.

You’d be surprised how many WA education ministers and Labor MPs have opted for the latter.

Another good question is whether they live in their electorate.

Many State and Federal MPs, including Labor’s Kim Beazley, don’t. It’s because he’s sitting tight in swish South Perth, not moved to Kwinana or Rockingham, that this niggling issue recently surfaced in his Brand electorate.

But does living outside one’s electorate really matter?

It’s obvious senators should reside in the State they represent.

I can’t imagine a political party endorsing someone who deliberately chose to live in another State.

That wasn’t always so, however.

WA’s long-serving Labor/Nationalist senator, George Pearce, after whom the RAAF base is named, was slated for living in Melbourne, certainly towards the end of his career.

One reason was that Melbourne effectively was Australia’s capital until 1927, and long-serving Senator Pearce, who entered Federal Parliament in 1901, was a minister many times over and sought to be near departmental heads.

But that was another era.

The issue is more complicated in the case of some Lower House seats.

Generally, MPs say residing in an electorate is preferable, though many tend to be silent on the issue.

The reason it’s treated silently is because all sides have MPs living outside their electorates.

If one side highlighted it the other could easily show the critic’s party also had MPs living outside their electorates.

But there are complexities in WA, primarily because of the State’s size.

Also, regular State and Federal redistributions often markedly change electoral boundaries.

MPs can’t be expected to sell-up and move a few blocks each time boundaries are altered, so voters tolerate MPs living nearby. In others words, near enough is generally seen as being good enough.

But I know of many MPs who live well outside their electorates, and voters still see nothing untoward, since there are good reasons for it.

A case in point is Liberal minister Wilson Tuckey, formerly of Carnarvon and Koorda, who now lives in Ascot.

His huge, boomerang-shaped electorate of O’Connor embraces WA’s entire wheatbelt, so there’s no ideal central access town.

Being in Perth is not only convenient for getting to Canberra and back, but also for getting relatively quickly to, say, Moora, Hyden, Wyalkatchem and all places in between.

However, that wasn’t the case for Attorney-General Daryl Williams, who lived in a residence north of the river. On being endorsed for south of the river Tangney, he promptly relocated to Mt Pleasant.

Tangney voters, he felt, might react unfavourably if he had not moved.

In 1990, NSW Liberal frontbencher John Spender lost his blue ribbon seat of North Sydney to popular local Independent Ted Mack because enough voters knew he hadn’t relocated from a well-to-do eastern Sydney suburb.

O’Connor voters appreciate the difficulty of servicing their enormous electorate and access to its disparate northern, central, and southern regions.

O’Connor’s complexities are experienced by many State MPs representing outback seats, especially the huge Upper House Mining and Pastoral seat, which equates roughly to the huge Federal seat of Kalgoorlie that’s without an ideal central access town.

Most such MPs – on both sides of politics – are virtually compelled to make Perth home base because of the direction of air routes, road networks, and parliamentary sittings times.

Voters generally appreciate these WA quirks and understand non-residence for such electorates.

They’re less tolerant, however, of MPs not being seen to be involved in their electorates.

Living in an electorate and getting around it – being regularly seen – can be two quite separate matters.

MPs, State and Federal, consequently tend to locate offices in their electorates, since that’s like hoisting the flag, showing one is around, being true local blue.

Most MPs have quite dedicated electorate staffers, sometimes too dedicated, as Labor’s Swan MHR, Kim Wilkie, recently discovered.

Voters understandably expect prompt personal service when in need, plus some regional attachment, and generally get both.

Where Mr Beazley may lose votes on Saturday is that he’s opted to live well away from Brand and, since he’s Labor leader, is rarely seen there. That’s his major, and potentially fatal, problem.

Some feel he’s in more trouble over these issues than he realizes and contend he could be toppled.

Imagine, Labor winning national government but Mr Beazley losing Brand.

Presumably his shadow treasurer Simon Crean would emerge as Prime Minister. What a dramatic turn of events that would be. Mr Beazley thus would join ex-Prime Minister Stanley Bruce, Australia’s only Federal party leader to lose his seat.

Perhaps if he’d even moved to nearby trendy Fremantle, those complaining of him being light on Brand’s ground may have accepted that. But way over in South Perth?

Saturday will tell if being in South Perth and Labor leader were a fatal or exhilarating combination.

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