The Liberal Party is facing an uphill battle to retain the 10 seats it holds in Western Australia with less than three months to go until the federal election.
- Colin Barnett says the Liberal party will struggle in WA
- Many voters cite the cost of living as a key issue
- Those who voted for Mark McGowan won’t necessarily vote Labor
A political analyst predicts the Liberals will face the most difficult federal election in WA that anyone can remember, while even the state’s former Liberal premier believes the party will lose seats in the West when Sandgropers head to the polls before the end of May.
The Liberals are battling with the loss of sitting members, including former Attorney General Christian Porter, the unfavorable redistribution of some electoral boundaries, the nine years the Coalition has already been in power and the dominance of Labor at a state level.
The Coalition holds 10 of the 15 WA seats. Labor holds five and will be hoping to claim more with three key electorates in its sights: Pearce, Swan and Hasluck.
Former premier Colin Barnett believes it will be a tough election for the Liberals after “a really difficult, messy 18 months” for Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and the loss of seats is inevitable.
“I don’t think Labor is going to lose a seat, but the Liberal ones are at risk,” Mr Barnett said.
Cost of living pressures bite
The Liberals’ most marginal seat in the west is Swan on 3.2 per cent, which includes inner city suburbs such as Victoria Park and South Perth, as well as the industrial areas of Welshpool and Kewdale, and Perth Airport.
Sitting Liberal member Steve Irons has held the seat since 2007 but is retiring.
It’s expected to be a tight contest between Liberal candidate Kristy McSweeney, a political commentator and former ministerial media advisor, and Labor candidate and engineer Zaneta Mascarenhas.
Anne Bramoulle is a stallholder at the Manning farmers’ market where she has been selling her jams and preserves for the last 10 years.
She lives close by and thought Mr Irons did a good job, but has not yet decided who will get her vote.
“I don’t know who the new candidates are and what values they represent and what they want to push through,” Ms Bramoulle said.
Candidates in the marginal seat will be trying to tap into local sentiment, especially among undecided voters. Shoppers at the markets were clear on what was important to them.
“I think for most people at the moment, it’s around things like cost of living, particularly around what’s going on internationally around things like fuel prices, which will affect things like food prices,” local Warren Clark said.
Shopper Judy Stanley said she would be happy to see a change of government, citing the environment, aged care and education as her priorities.
Swan could be first casualty
Peter Kennedy, a long-time observer of state and federal politics, said if the Liberals did lose seats in WA, Swan may be the first to go.
“In fact, I don’t think they can go back with 10. I think they’ll lose several of them and the challenge for the Liberal Party is to limit the damage.”
There’s also the question of whether Liberal voters who flipped at last year’s state election – backing Premier Mark McGowan – will continue to stick with Labor federally.
“Mark McGowan’s Liberals, they’ve got to get them back into the fold. That is the enormous challenge for Liberals,” Mr Kennedy said.
Many ABC voters spoke positively about Mr McGowan, but none said that they would necessarily vote for Labor federally.
“I’m quite happy with what Mark McGowan’s done, he’s kept us pretty safe here,” said Tania Park, who backs Liberal MP and Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt in Hasluck.
“(But) no, I’m not [going to vote Labor], to me it’s an entirely separate entity. They are different issues.
“I think leadership is a big issue. I’m not all favorable towards [Federal Labor leader Anthony)]Albanese. I think he’s got a little bit to learn.”
Christian Porter retirement changes contest
As well as Swan, Labor is targeting Hasluck, on a 5.9 per cent margin, and Pearce, which Mr Porter is not recontesting following a number of controversies including a defamation case against the ABC.
The boundaries of Pearce were radically redrawn and reduced in a recent redistribution.
It lost a large swathe of inland areas and now essentially mirrors the boundaries of the City of Wanneroo, on Perth’s northern and coastal fringe, including fast growing suburbs like Alkimos and Eglinton.
But it has also lost the area around Ellenbrook, and the redistribution means the Liberals’ margin has been cut from 7.5 to 5.2 per cent.
With Christian Porter not standing again, it’s the seat Labor is most confident of winning.
“Without Porter, with two virtually unknown candidates, it’s going to be, I think, very hard for the Liberals to make up that ground,” Mr Kennedy said.
Florist Riana Bertolami lives in Pearce where she also runs her business from a shop in Wangarra, while her husband’s gym is nearby.
The couple have three children and have felt the brunt of rent hikes and housing shortages.
“Affordability wise, running two businesses with the rent prices, it’s hard to be able to save,” Ms Bertolami said.
She is pleased women are standing for the major parties: City of Wanneroo Mayor Tracey Roberts for Labor and Wanneroo councillor Linda Aitken for the Liberals.
But others in Pearce, like Terri Couper, are disillusioned with the main parties. She is keen on the Western Australia Party as an alternative.
“We need some new people, I reckon.”
Independents could be critical
Mr Barnett said both state and federal politics had been “really unimpressive” in recent years and the major parties would struggle to hold their traditional voter base.
He said votes would scatter widely, making preference flows from independents critical.
But the former premier, who made a preference swap deal with One Nation at the 2017 state election and then lost to the McGowan Labor government, has again warned against any deal with One Nation or businessman Clive Palmer.
That dissatisfaction with the major parties could benefit independent candidates this time around, even in one of the Liberals’ safest seats, Curtin, where Kate Chaney is running against Liberal Celia Hammond.
Mr Barnett was confident Ms Hammond, who enjoys a 13.9 per cent margin, would comfortably retain the heartland seat.
But early campaigning by Kate Chaney, whose grandfather and uncle were both federal Liberal ministers, is already attracting attention.
“I think Kate will do really well because she stands up for issues that people in this area are really passionate about, which includes climate change action and political transparency, particularly with donations,” Ali Manners said, after an early morning swim at Cottesloe beach , in the heart of Curtin.
Her friend Sharon Maxwell agreed. “I think she’s a welcome change,” she said.
“I think she’s tried the Liberal party and the Labor party and she’s decided they’re very much the same and so to stand as an independent is very brave.”
The Liberals may have other problems, such as how to properly fund and staff their campaigns after being reduced to two lower house seats at the last state election.
“This will be the most difficult federal election for the Liberal Party in Western Australia that anyone can remember,” Peter Kennedy said.
Labor facing its own challenges
The Liberals did not reply to questions on these issues, but Mr Barnett saw potential hurdles on Labor’s side too.
“Anthony Albanese, a decent guy, but no enthusiasm for him,” was his assessment of the Labor leader.
As with Mr Morrison, Mr Albanese had been locked out of WA before he landed in the west the day the border came down, trying to build his profile.
“I would expect he would be very keen to be seen with Mr McGowan and hope that some of Mr McGowan’s sort of gloss will rub off on him, because that could be very crucial in the whole election outcome,” Mr Kennedy said.
Voters in WA’s marginal seats can expect to see a lot more of Mr Albanese and Mr Morrison in the coming weeks.