Why outback voters feel forgotten this federal election

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Why outback voters feel forgotten this federal election

With just two days until the federal election, voters in the Kimberley say they feel unseen and unacknowledged by the campaigns from all sides of politics.

The electorate of Durack is one of the world’s largest in terms of geography and is considered a safe Liberal seat with a margin of 13.5 per cent.

But the Kimberley, which falls in the north of the electorate, is a stronghold for the ALP and has been held by Labor at state level for nearly four decades.

Labor won six of the region’s eight fixed polling booths two-party preferred at the 2019 poll; the Liberals dominated the vast electorate’s southern reaches.

It means the Kimberley is an ultra-safe state seat for Labor wrapped in one of the safest federal seats held by the Liberal Party.

No major party leaders have visited the Kimberley during the campaign, and no major policy announcements have been made to address the region’s complex challenges.

Hannah Anderson standing in the kitchen in Broome, May 2022.
Hannah Anderson says cost of living and child care are major issues for her young family.(ABC Kimberley: Jessica Hayes)

Child care 

It’s been a frustrating campaign for mother of three Hannah Anderson, who relocated to Broome from Perth with her husband about 18 months ago.

She said she had noticed the lack of emphasis on Kimberley issues compared to the city since the election was called.

“Somewhere like Broome … we need help. Just for the average family we need something that will make Broome somewhere we can live and where we want to stay.”

Ms Anderson wants to return to work but needs to secure places in child care or after-school care for her kids, who are all aged under five.

While Labor has flagged increased subsidies for child care and out-of-hours care, Ms Anderson said it would not address the fundamental issue — the lack of workers available to service regional childcare centres.

“We just can’t get in anywhere, we’ve been on waitlists for months and months, there’s just no spaces available,” she said.

“We put the kids on the waitlist in September and it’s now May, but we’ve been told at least a year [before they can secure a place].

A family watching television in Broome, May 2022.
Some Kimberley voters feel forgotten because Durack is not a marginal seat.(ABC Kimberley: Jessica Hayes)

Health

Broome’s Kathy Watson said health care in the Kimberley had also been overlooked during the federal campaign.

Ms Watson, an Indigenous health pioneer in the region, said while service delivery had improved over the years, there was still little understanding in Canberra about what was needed in WA’s remotest areas.

“The two head honchos of the major parties can’t even come here,” she said.

“They say they’ll do this or that, you don’t see any of them, whether Labor or Liberal.”

Ms Watson said Kimberley-specific funding packages were needed to match the complex nature of healthcare delivery in the region.

“A lot of people are in outlying communities … there could be stuff they want to do with regards to health, but money-wise [they need] funding.”

Kathy Watson, standing by door, May 2022
Kathy Watson is challenging the major parties to visit the Kimberley.(ABC Kimberley: Jessica Hayes)

She urged decision-makers to visit the region after the election to better understand the challenges faced by locals and to determine what future federal investment was needed.

“Then you’ll know all about the needs of people in the Kimberley, both black and white. Get off your high horse and come and visit.”

Crime

Crime is also one of the most pressing issues facing voters in the Kimberley, with escalating rates of burglaries, trespass and damage becoming a growing problem across the region.

The Liberal Party is yet to announce any funds to specifically target the region’s youth crime problem this campaign despite federal incumbent MP Melissa Price describing the region as a “war zone”.

Gary Alexander side profile, May 2022, Kununurra.
Gary Alexander wants a bigger federal focus on addressing crime in the Kimberley.(ABC Kimberley: Ted O’Connor)

Ms Price recently commented on Facebook that $30 million of federal funds had been directed to “youth diversionary programs” in the region, but said she did not have all the details about what the investment entailed.

The federal Liberals have committed significant funds across the border in the marginal NT seat of Lingiari, including $14 million to prevent crime in Alice Springs.

Meanwhile, Labor candidate Jeremiah Riley is also yet to announce any commitment to tackle crime in the Kimberley, despite his party committing $79 million in Lingiari into communities for justice reinvestment.

Orange cardboard box contains bundles of printed pamphlets. The box is labelled "Durack ballot paper allocation"
The electorate spans 1.6 million square kilometres.(ABC North West WA: Sonia Feng)

It is the type of commitment Kununurra businessman Gary Alexander would like to see pledged for the Kimberley.

Mr Alexander’s cafe was ram-raided earlier this year by juveniles driving a stolen car.

He wants whichever party that forms government to step up and announce funds to help address the region’s youth crime issues.

“I think it is probably the top pocket [of the state] that’s probably more often forgotten about than it should be … being so far from Perth, so far from Canberra.

“There are significant issues that need to be dealt with that are not dealt with.”

Martin Drum standing in the doorway of his home
Martin Drum says redistributions have pulled the focus of campaigns towards the south.(ABC News: Claire Moodie)

Politicians follow population

Notre Dame University political analyst Martin Drum said the latest redistribution of electoral boundaries meant major party campaigns had been focused further south.

“There’s been some changes to the federal seat of Durack, principally the adding of a whole range of areas from Pearce, which borders the metropolitan boundary of Perth,” he said.

“There’s quite a significant population centred down there and that then pulls the campaigning further south.

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