Will WA finally deliver for Labor?

Will WA finally deliver for Labor?

The dream of every Labor activist in Western Australia is for a federal election result to still be in the balance when polls close locally, then for WA to bring the election home for Labor with a swag of seat gains.

Unfortunately for WA Labor, this has been an elusive scenario. From a modern day high of winning seven of of the 14 seats available in WA under Kim Beazley at the 1998 federal election, Labor’s share of seats deteriorated at subsequent elections, bottoming out in 2010 with a return of only Perth, Fremantle and Brand from the 15 seats on offer.

In 2016, Labor added the seats of Cowan and Burt to its column, but this wasn’t enough to get Bill Shorten over the line in a close election against Malcolm Turnbull.

Heading into the 2019 election, Labor optimists were hopeful of adding five seats to the party’s column, based on published polling results in the year leading up to the election. However, as in most states at that election, Labor’s performance didn’t meet expectations.

While it is increasingly difficult to predict election outcomes, I feel confident in saying that Anthony Albanese’s hopes of becoming Prime Minister rest on Labor not losing seats to the coalition in New South Wales, as well as Labor picking up multiple seats in Western Australia.

As things stand now, you would have to think there has never been a more prospective time for Labor to add West Australian seats to its column. The record popularity of WA Premier Mark McGowan and the result of the 2021 state election have created a new political environment. This dynamic has been built on strong public support for the state government’s handling of COVID, a community sentiment that the rest of Australia, including many within the Morrison Government, have struggled at times to grasp.

Published polling data aggregated by William Bowe at The Poll Bludger suggests a swing upwards of seven per cent is currently available to Labor. If replicated on election day, this would put Swan, Christian Porter’s seat of Pearce and Ken Wyatt’s seat of Hasluck within reach, on top of the seat of Stirling, which the Liberals have already lost in the most recent distribution.

However, there is still a lot of water to go under the bridge in Western Australia, including the likely opening of the WA borders ahead of the election, and the new dynamic that will create for a community that hasn’t had to live with significant spread of COVID in the community.

And it is worth noting, state and federal voting intentions don’t always correlate in Western Australia.  This includes recently, when in-between two record wins to Mark McGowan in 2017 and 2021, the same voters swung to the Morrison Government at the 2019 federal election. If this trend occurs again, the Liberals might like their chances in Cowan.

In this edition of The Spill, we take a close look at the seats that will matter in WA…. particularly if Mr Morrison fails to pick up the seats he is chasing in New South Wales.

COWAN (Labor 0.9%)

The federal electorate of Cowan stretches east to west across Perth’s northern suburbs, from Lockridge in the east, to Greenwood in the north-west and as far down as Osborne Park in the south-west. 

The seat was created with the enlargement of parliament in 1984 and has changed hands four times: when inaugural Labor member Carolyn Jakobsen was defeated by Liberal member Richard Evans in 1993; when Evans was defeated by Graeme Edwards in 1998; when Luke Simpkins won the seat for the Liberals on Edwards' retirement in 2007 (one of only two Liberal gains at that election, the other being Swan); and when Anne Aly unseated Simpkins in 2016. Aly’s margin went from 0.7 per cent to 0.8 per cent in 2019.

As redrawn by the redistribution, the seat of Cowan has added 0.1 per cent to the Labor margin, on the back of significant change following the abolition of the seat of Stirling.

Cowan has retained only 52.2 per cent of its former enrolment on the new boundaries, in an area that accounts for 44.2 per cent of its post-redistribution enrolment. This constitutes the northern areas of Greenwood and Warwick, Marangaroo and Girrawheen, Alexander Heights, Ballajura and Malaga, as well as the eastern areas, namely the Beechboro, Kiara and Lockridge ends of the electorate. These areas favoured Labor with a margin of 5.9 per cent in 2019.

Gains include the central and north-eastern parts of Stirling, including Hamersley, Balcatta and Stirling in the west, Balga, Westminster and Nollamara in the centre, and Mirrabooka and northern Dianella in the east. This area constituted 49.4 per cent of the old enrolment of Stirling and is now 43 per cent of the enrolment of Cowan. It favoured the Liberals by 2.6 per cent in 2019.

The seat also gains the northern part of Perth at Noranda and northern Morley which includes 14.6 per cent of the old enrolment of Perth and 12.8 per cent of the new enrolment of Cowan. These areas favoured Labor by just 0.1 per cent in 2019.

As far as losses in the redistribution go, the northern end of the electorate encompassing Wanneroo and surrounding suburbs went to Pearce. This was 43.6 per cent of the old Cowan and is 41.3 per cent of the new Pearce, which favoured the Liberals by 5.3 per cent in 2019.

At the eastern end, Whiteman and Bennett Springs moved to Hasluck, accounting for 3.4 per cent of the old Cowan and 3.1 per cent of the new Hasluck. These areas favoured Labor by 3.4 per cent in 2019.

Anne Aly will again contest the seat for Labor and will be up against outgoing Stirling MP Vince Connolly, who reluctantly sought pre-selection for Cowan after a highly publicised push to replace Ian Goodenough as the Liberal candidate for Moore. Given the changes to the electorate, both Ms Aly and Mr Connolly are likely to benefit similarly from the profile benefits of incumbency.

SWAN (Liberal 3.2%)

The seat of Swan is one of Western Australia’s most diverse electorates, inclusive of waterfront suburbs along the Swan and Canning Rivers, stretching across to the Perth foothills and including an eclectic mix of established, gentrifying, working class and disadvantaged suburbs in between.

Swan has existed in name since federation but did not become recognisable as the electorate of the day until at least 1949. Labor held the seat from 1969 to 1975 and 1980 to 1996 (by Kim Beazley, who then moved to Brand) then again from 1998 to 2007.

Current Liberal MP Steve Irons has held the seat since winning the seat from Labor’s Kim Wilkie, in a result that went against the grain of that election’s “Ruddslide”.

Labor has run strong candidates against Mr Irons in the past, including lawyer Tim Hammond, who went on to become the Member for Perth, and Hannah Beazley, who is now the state member for Victoria Park.

While seats in the northern suburbs were highly impacted at the redistribution, the seat of Swan remained relatively stable, maintaining 96.4 per cent of its former enrolment, in an area accounting for 86.3 per cent of its enrolment now. 

Gains include Maida Vale, most of Forrestfield and Wattle Grove in the east, encompassing 13.7 per cent of its enrolment, and 15.6 per cent of the former enrolment of Hasluck. Swan favoured the Liberals by a 6.5 per cent margin in 2019.

Losses in the redistribution include Wilson in the south with a total of 3.6 per cent of its former enrolment, now 3.1 per cent of the enrolment of Tangney. This area favoured Liberal by 1.8 per cent in 2019.

Overall, the redistribution cut 0.5 per cent from the Liberal margin of 2.7 per cent at the 2019 election.

Following the announcement of Mr Irons’ retirement, Kristy McSweeney was pre-selected unopposed by the Liberal Party. Ms McSweeney is a Sky News commentator, a former public relations consultant and former adviser to Tony Abbott. She is the daughter of former state MP Robyn McSweeney.

Labor's candidate is Zaneta Mascarenhas, an engineer who runs an energy management consultancy, and is backed by the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union.

The Liberals will not have the benefit of Mr Irons’ profile at this election. If the strong swing to Labor currently being reported in published polling holds, this will likely be the first West Australian seat to fall to Labor on election night.

PEARCE (Liberal 5.2%)

Pearce is another northern suburbs Perth seat that has been heavily impacted by the abolishing of Stirling.

Following the redistribution, Pearce has maintained only 49.7 per cent of its former enrolment, taking in coastal suburbs from Tamala Park north to Two Rocks, and inland from Banksia Grove north to Yanchep. This area favoured the Liberals by 5.6 per cent in 2019.

Wanneroo and surrounding suburbs have been gained from Cowan, and now constitute the southern end of the electorate. This represented 43.6 per cent of the old Cowan and is 41.3 per cent of the new Pearce. It favoured the Liberals by 5.3 per cent in 2019.

Losses in the redistribution include the Swan Valley from West Swan north to recently developed Ellenbrook and Aveley, representing 29.7 per cent of the old enrolment of Pearce and 33.7 per cent of the new enrolment of Hasluck. The area favoured the Liberals by 5.1 per cent in 2019.

Pearce’s remaining non-metropolitan areas have gone largely to Durack, inclusive of Lancelin and the Avon Valley towns of Toodyay, Northam and York. These areas made up 19.5 per cent of the enrolment of Pearce and are now 21.4 per cent of the enrolment of Durack. They favoured the Liberals by a total of 15.1 per cent in 2019.

The southern end of the Avon Valley, at Beverley, has gone to O'Connor, representing 1.1 per cent of the old Pearce and 1.2 per cent of the new O'Connor. This favoured the Liberals by 21.8 per cent in 2019.

Overall, the redistribution cut 2.3 per cent from the Liberal margin.

Pearce has been held by the Liberals since its creation in 1990, and by Christian Porter since 2013.

However, urban development on the metropolitan fringe has tended to weaken the Liberals by giving the electorate a less rural character, a process that reached a culmination in the latest redistribution.

At the 2019 federal election, Mr Porter achieved a swing towards him of 3.9 per cent, compared with 0.9 per cent statewide. This was typical of outer suburban seats across the country, which typically swung to the Morrison Government, after turning against Malcolm Turnbull’s Liberals in 2016.

Labor's candidate is the high-profile Tracey Roberts, who has spent 10 years as the mayor of Wanneroo.

HASLUCK (Liberal 5.9%)

The seat of Hasluck includes the Perth Hills and foothills, the Swan Valley and the slowly gentrifying Midland, as well as several outer suburban growth suburbs and aspirational areas.

The seat was created in 2001 and has changed hands at each election through to 2013. Sharryn Jackson held it for Labor from 2001 to 2004 and 2007 to 2010, with Stuart Henry holding it for the Liberals in the interim.

Ken Wyatt has held it for the Liberals since 2013, and his margin reached a new high of 5.9 per cent in 2019.

Hasluck is another seat that has been heavily impacted by the redistribution, albeit to a slightly lesser extent than Cowan and Pearce.

Hasluck, as redrawn by the redistribution, adds 0.5 per cent to the Liberal margin.

The seat maintains Guildford and Midland, the area around Kalamunda, and Mundaring, Chidlow and Gidgegannup further to the east. This represents 69.3 per cent of the enrolment of the old Hasluck, and 63.2 per cent the enrolment of the new. The area favoured the Liberals by 6.8 per cent in 2019.

Gains include the recently developed suburbs around Ellenbrook, together with lightly developed areas to the east and south, from Pearce. As noted above, this represents 29.7 per cent of the old enrolment of Pearce, and 33.7 per cent of the new enrolment of Hasluck. It favoured the Liberals by 5.1 per cent in 2019.

This transfer extends further west to take in Whiteman and Bennett Springs from Cowan, representing 3.4 per cent of the old Cowan and 3.1 per cent of the new Hasluck, which favoured Labor by 3.4 per cent in 2019.

Losses in the redistribution include a section of the electorate's south-east, about half of which involves the transfer of Maida Vale, most of Forrestfield and Wattle Grove to Swan.

As noted previously, this represents 13.7 per cent of Swan's new enrolment, 15.6 per cent of Hasluck's old enrolment, and favoured the Liberals by a 6.5 per cent margin in 2019. The other half involves the transfer of Beckenham, Kenwick and Maddington to Burt, namely 15.1 per cent of the old Hasluck and 14.4 per cent of the new Burt, which favoured Labor by 3.3 per cent in 2019.

Mr Wyatt was promoted to cabinet after the 2019 election in the Indigenous Australians portfolio. He is highly regarded in the electorate, but thought to be contesting the seat for the last time.

Labor's candidate is Tania Lawrence, a former public servant and manager at Woodside who ran unsuccessfully in Darling Range at a state by-election in 2018.

All

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