If the frequent sightings of political heavyweights on the hustings are any indication, political strategists think Western Australia could have a big role to play in the result of Saturday’s election.
Since the election campaign officially kicked off on April 10, we’ve had former prime ministers such as John Howard touring shopping centres with candidates and Kevin Rudd revving up volunteers at riverside events.
There’s been a procession of ministers and shadow ministers, not to mention multiple visits by the two men vying to be prime minister, to the western reaches of the country.
Scott Morrison flew into Western Australia last night so he could spend the last full day of campaigning in Perth, a sure sign that the state could be a potential pathway towards the Liberals holding power.
WA has not been the focus of this kind of political attention in recent years.
But even Labor took the unusual step of holding its campaign launch in WA for the first time since 1940, when John Curtin was just an opposition leader a year away from becoming a wartime Prime Minister.
“Whether [the campaign launch] itself makes any difference is really difficult to tell but it’s part of this broader narrative of WA really mattering,” Notre Dame University political analyst Martin Drum said.
Election result could be delayed
Western Australia only has 15 of the 151 lower house seats in the Australian parliament – but if the election is tight, it could come down to results in the west, where people will be voting long after the polling stations have closed on the east coast.
But if WA does hold the seats which lead to power, there’s also a chance we might not get a result on election night.
“We’re getting a lot of early pre-polling, which can be counted on the night, but also postal voting, which won’t be counted on the night.
“And that probably means there’s going to be quite a few seats that are unclear on Saturday night.”
Almost 90,000 Western Australians have COVID-19, as the state continues to see record daily numbers of infections, which could also translate into a higher number of postal votes than usual.
“There’s already people who, for whatever reason, can’t get to a polling booth on polling day and they’re postal voting but I think that number has increased significantly for people that either have COVID or they’re just wary of being amongst big crowds,” Dr Drum said.
Pearce, Swan, Curtin seats to watch
Dr Drum believes the two seats most in play are the metropolitan electorates of Pearce and Swan , although he thinks the blue-ribbon Liberal seat of Curtin could also be a fascinating one to watch.
Curtin was held for many years by former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop but is now the scene of a tough battle between sitting Liberal MP Celia Hammond and “teal independent” Kate Chaney, with Labor candidate Yannick Spencer running a relatively quiet campaign.
Ms Chaney is supported by Climate 200 with a policy platform which includes reducing emissions by at least 50 per cent by 2030.
Curtin is one of the few electorates in resources-rich WA where climate change has featured significantly as an election issue.
“I think Labor is clearly pursuing a smaller target strategy and hoping to not present themselves as a risk and demonstrate themselves as business-friendly and economy-friendly as well,” Dr Drum said.
Pearce and Swan are both held by the Liberals – with a 5.2 per cent and 3.2 per cent margin, respectively – and have retiring members, but Labor has them top of its to-win list.
Cost of living front of mind
During the election campaign, cost of living has become one of the key issues, with new figures released showing growing inflation and fuel prices, as well as wages failing to keep pace with inflation, and the Reserve Bank deciding to lift interest rates for the first time in years.
“If you look at the seat of Pearce, for instance, which is entirely an outer metropolitan seat with a lot of young families and mortgages and the like, you’d expect that to be a major issue there,” Dr Drum said.
“The seat of Swan is a bit more complex. It has some very wealthy areas, it does have some low [socio-economic] areas as well, where some of those same questions will come up.”
Labor was also targeting Hasluck – a metropolitan seat held by Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt by a margin of 5.9 per cent — at the start of the campaign, but Dr Drum believes they are probably less confident of winning it than Pearce and Swan.
But the culturally diverse seat of Cowan – Labor’s most-marginal electorate, held by sitting MP Anne Aly – could pose an outside opportunity for the Liberals to take a seat off Labor, which only holds five federal seats.
“It’s a very interesting seat to watch. If there’s a broad swing to Labor, it’s probably going to be impossible for the Liberals to win that seat but you never know and there are certainly local dynamics at play there,” he said.
Grassroots campaigning resonates
A casual glance at the candidates’ Facebook pages shows that local dynamics, with a small price tag, are very much at play in the final week of campaigning in Cowan, Hasluck, Pearce and Swan.
Many Labor candidates are promising $5,000 grants to local toy libraries, while many Liberal candidates are offering bigger grants for sporting facilities, like BMX tracks and playing fields.
In recent weeks, they have also posted photos of themselves with their leaders on the hustings.
But it remains to be seen whether the supposed star power of their leaders will resonate as much with voters as grassroots campaigning, given that polls have shown many voters are undecided or unsure about supporting either Anthony Albanese or Scott Morrison.
Dr Drum said about one-quarter of lower house votes had gone to minor parties and independents in recent years – and he wouldn’t be surprised if that increased.
“It could be as high as 30 per cent this time round,” he said.
While the campaigns have been keen to capitalise on the star power of leaders past in WA, the results on Saturday will deliver a verdict on the star power of leaders present.
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