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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Federal election: WA « Previous | |Next »
July 30, 2004

There is an article The Australian by Peter van Onselen, a lecturer in political science at Edith Cowan University, which spells out the marginal seat situation in WA. He says that this year's election will be close, but challenges the assumption of a uniform swing across the nation, or the ALP winning because of its preference lead in the western suburbs of Sydney.What we do know is that this election is close so it will revert to trench warfare in the marginals, as Labor tries to claw back the dozen or so seats it needs to govern in its own right.

The ALP is saying that it can hang onto its maginal seats in WA bag two from the Coalition and increase its seven seats to nine. It has the weaponry etc etc.

We need to step away from the spin. van Onselen identifies 4 marginal seats in WA:

"Perth houses four marginal seats - Canning, Sterling (sic), Hasluck and Swan. Interestingly, only the first of these is held by the Coalition. The other three, all with margins of 2 per cent or less, are Labor seats. Simply put, Howard believes he can pick up Labor seats in the west. Why does Howard believe that?"

The answer has to do with the parochialism of WA. The change in the ALP leadership from Beazley to anyone from a state other than WA was bound to carry the risk of Labor losing seats in the west, whether the leader was Crean or Latham. The Beazley factor is crucial. Hence the return of Beazley to the front bench can only benefit the federal ALP in WA.

So where does that leave the ALP? van Onselen goes on to say:

"Labor insiders have noted that the ALP can't win this year's federal election in the west, it can only lose it. Equally, Coalition strategists have been targeting Perth Labor marginals for some time. Howard's trip to WA this week is his fourth this year. Factor in the unpopularity of the Gallop Labor Government and WA is a soft target for the Coalition."

That Howard is spending so much time in the West is an indication of party polling revealing an opportunity to catch Labor napping. The ALP has taken their eye off WA?

Do we give Canning to the Coalition? Where does that leave Stirling, Hasluck and Swan? With the ALP hanging on after a grim struggle? Howard reckons he has a chance in Hasluck, with its margin for the ALP of 1.78 per cent.

This is the possibility canvassed by van Onselen:

"If the election is tight, it may be that Latham thinks he has won the prime ministership, picking up enough seats in NSW, Queensland and South Australia early in the count. But if Howard wins all three Labor held marginals in Perth, that could deliver him a narrow fourth term majority."

WA is even less on on the radar screen of most national commentators than SA. I have very little knowledge of the current issues in the ALP marginals. They are urban seats, and so their issues would be quite different from the those in the marginals along the Queensland coast.

In the latter there is a cocktail of rural discontent over globalization, competition policy and deregulation, the ongoing rationalization of the farm sector and the decline in the services in the bush. This political backlash, which generated the populist protest of Pauline Hanson in the 1990s, places the National Party under threat.

So what is going on in Perth's marginal seats in terms of issues? It cannot be all about the Beazley factor, given that all politics is local.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:50 AM | | Comments (7)


This has got to be one of the most interesting contests in this election.

Here's hoping!

Alas Rex,
he will do his money.Just like the similar challenge to Howard by Wilkie.

Gary, that article spelled Stirling wrong.

If you're in Parliament this week, give me a ring on x3416.

It would have been nice to have you point to various comments by others on what is happening re the issues in the Perth marginal seats. You are in a better position to know where to go to find the issues than me.

The account by van Onselen is very superfical. A lot more is going on there than just the 'Beazley factor.'

This is one way that blogs can be useful. They can address the gaps and silences of the Canberra Press Gallery on the basis of local knowledge.

Hi All,

Let me apologise for the incorrect 'e' in Stirling in the original article - automatic spell checks can be a real pain! Either way no excuses.

As for the 'very superfical' assessment of the article - you need to remember it is limited to 700 words! Of course 'a lot more is going on' in WA, but a lot more is also going on in the world, and opinion editors need space to cover it. If you are interested in more detailed analysis you need to move on to academic journal articles such as AJPS.

all the best
Peter van Onselen

I presume that AJPS means this?

I note that nothing in this journal is online. So we are faced with academic closure + "superfical" opinion pieces. Not a very satisfactory situation for a vibrant political discourse in civil society is it.

It is a vacuum that blogs should be addressing---but I do not have the specialised or localised knowledge about Perth.

Hi Gary,

I agree it is a shame journals like AJPS are not more easily accessable to a wider readership. Though i fear that one of the reasons they aren't is a commercial decision that the interest would not sustain it.

It is one of the paradoxes of being an academic -if you write something detailed and analyitical few people read it (largely peers and students that need to to pass their degree), but when you popularise it and lose some of the analysis along the way you improve your readership.

all the best