There have been suggestions that the electorate of John Curtin might be lost to Labor at the next election as part of a statewide conservative sweep, although they have faded with Labor’s recent improvement in the polls.
The electorate of Fremantle covers Perth’s coastal southern suburbs from North Fremantle south to Henderson. It extends only a short distance eastwards along the southern bank of the Swan River to Bicton, Liberal-voting riverfront territory beyond being accommodated by Tangney, while going deep inland as far as Jandakot and Banjup further to the south. Liberal support is strongest along the riverfront, in the Jandakot/Banjup area, and in recently developed Port Coogee south of the city. The Greens polled between 25% and 30% in the Fremantle city booths in 2010, reflecting a strength of support that allowed Adele Carles to win the state seat for the party at a by-election in April 2009. However, their competitiveness in the federal seat is curtailed by the more traditionally working-class complexion of the suburbs further south.
The electorate of Fremantle has existed in name since federation, with the entirety of the Perth metropolitan area being divided between it and Perth until parliament was expanded in 1949. Only then did the port city and its surrounds sufficiently dominate the seat to allow Labor to secure its hold. John Curtin became the member in 1928 after unseating independent incumbent William Watson, who recovered it at the 1931 election as the candidate of the United Australia Party. Curtin was back for the long haul in 1934 and succeeded Jim Scullin as Labor leader the following year, although he survived in Fremantle by only 641 votes at the 1940 election.
After leading the country through the sharp end of the war years, Curtin became only the second prime minister to die in office in July 1945. Fremantle was retained for Labor at the ensuing by-election by Kim Beazley Senior and remained a home for high-profile Labor figures thereafter: Keating government Treasurer John Dawkins succeeded Beazley upon his retirement in 1977, and former Premier Carmen Lawrence in turn assumed the seat when Dawkins quit in 1994. Fremantle was the only WA seat left standing for Labor after the twin disasters of 1975 and 1977, but it was overtaken by Perth as Labor’s strongest seat in WA at the 2010 election, by which time the statewide tide to the Liberals had worn the margin in Fremantle down to 5.7%.
Fremantle has been held since Carmen Lawrence’s retirement in 2007 by Melissa Parke, a former United Nations human rights lawyer factionally aligned with the Left. Parke has thus far been overlooked for promotion, but made headlines over the past term after criticising the government’s “Malaysia solution” and decision to resume live cattle exports to Indonesia. As one report put it, Parke was “widely believed” to have voted for Kevin Rudd when he challenged for the leadership in February 2012.