25/03/2010 - 00:00

State polls will have national repercussions

25/03/2010 - 00:00


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AS Perth surveys the damage wreaked by Monday’s storm, political observers were picking over something completely different – the results of two state elections at the weekend and trying to assess the implications for Western Australia.

AS Perth surveys the damage wreaked by Monday’s storm, political observers were picking over something completely different – the results of two state elections at the weekend and trying to assess the implications for Western Australia.

While Labor governments in Tasmania and South Australia were hit by huge swings, it is the latter that was seen as a more applicable case study for the coming national election due to the nature of the two-party fight.

Tasmania, with a huge showing from the Greens, is hard to correlate with typical federal elections, especially in WA.

In South Australia, Premier Mike Rann appears to have survived a swing of almost 9 per cent because Labor clung on in the most marginal seats it held, actually recording a positive swing in some cases.

It is this experience, and the strategist behind it, Bruce Hawker, that provide some notion of where Prime Minister Kevin Rudd might fight if the Tony Abbott bandwagon really gets rolling.

In WA, there are several marginal seats that appear to be of interest in the coming election.

Due to WA’s unusual voting pattern, the Liberals hold most of the marginal seats from the 2007 poll, managing to record positive swings at a time when Mr Rudd was sweeping up electorates across the nation.

Two Liberal seats that Labor will be concentrating on are Swan, held by Steve Irons, and Stirling, held by Michael Keenan. In both cases, Labor has candidates it believes have a chance to upset the status quo.

In Swan, the Labor candidate is Tim Hammond, a lawyer from Slater & Gordon who is known for fighting the claims of asbestos victims. Mr Hammond’s battle has been made slightly easier by electoral boundary changes, which have made the seat notionally Labor by a majority of less of 1 per cent.

Against Mr Keenan, Labor’s Louise Durack has a background as a social worker and is executive officer for People With Disabilities. Ms Durack has a political past, contesting and losing the marginal seat of Ocean Reef at last year’s state election.

Both sides of politics acknowledge the local fight in these areas. The sitting members’ track records will no doubt be part of the campaign.

But the Liberal members are also operating from incumbency and Mr Keenan is noted for his ability to keep a high profile in the electorate, in part through what Labor insiders suggest is a considerable advertising spend.

Another seat that ought to be similarly contested is Cowan. However, Labor is yet to put forward a candidate for that seat, which is held by Luke Simpkins on a similar margin to that of Mr Keenan.

While Canning member Don Randall has a bigger buffer and a long history in the area, his position is seen as marginal due to the high-profile nature of his opponent, Alannah MacTiernan, a former senior cabinet minister in the state government.

The view is that Ms MacTiernan’s candidacy will force the Liberals to put more resources than they would like into Mr Randall’s campaign. Nevertheless, Ms MacTiernan may have issues of her own. She made a few enemies in business as the state’s planning and infrastructure portfolio and it’s thought that magnates like Len Buckeridge are likely to fund Mr Randall.

Another key marginal seat is Hasluck, which Labor will be defending. Former unionist Sharryn Jackson holds the seat by a narrow margin.

Local Liberals have recommended Office of Aboriginal Health director Ken Wyatt as their candidate, a decision is expected to be endorsed by the party’s state council this weekend. Dr Wyatt is second cousin to state Labor opposition treasury spokesman, Ben Wyatt.

Ms Jackson, a once high-profile unionist, has an interesting track record in the seat, having won in 2001, lost in 2004 and won it back again in 2007.

Like party officials and politicians from both sides of the political divide, Dr Wyatt acknowledges that the battle for Hasluck will be fought on the ground via doorknocking, attending community events and giving key stakeholders like small business a voice. Local voters can expect national debt to be a theme of that battle.

Outside these very marginal seats, the bigger electoral winds that can put safer seats at risk have not yet been determined.

One interesting seat to watch will be Fremantle. A very safe seat in the past – held by Labor luminaries such as John Curtin, Kim Beazley (snr), John Dawkins and Carmen Lawrence – the current member, Melissa Parke, has a lower profile than her predecessors.

Ms Parke may be one of the few WA politicians who need to take heed of the Greens success in Tasmania. Nationally, the Greens are perceived as a threat in formerly safe Labor inner-urban electorates. At the 2007 election, the Greens earned nearly 15 per cent of the primary vote in Fremantle and will have been emboldened by win of their state candidate, Adele Carles, in a by-election last year.


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