Western Australia has produced the most consistent Senate results of any state in the modern era of six-seat half-Senate elections, but there at times been talk of Labor facing an unprecedented disaster this time around.
Western Australia has produced variations on the same result since the first six-seat half-Senate election in 1990: three seats for the Liberals, two for Labor and one for either the Greens or the Democrats. This reflects the fact that Labor has consistently been too weak to win a third seat, but never quite so weak that it was unable to deliver enough preferences to the Greens or Democrats to win them a seat. The state joined Tasmania in being a cradle of green politics, in large part due to the election in 1984 of Jo Vallentine as part of the short-lived Nuclear Disarmament Party (whose narrowly unsuccessful candidate in New South Wales was Peter Garrett). The profile Vallentine attained enabled her to win re-election as an independent at the 1987 double dissolution and as the candidate of the newly founded Greens WA in 1990, and their candidate Dee Margetts likewise outpolled a weakly performing Australian Democrats to win the final seat in 1993.
The Democrats vote surged over subsequent elections, progressively squeezing out Vallentine’s successor Christabel Chamarette in 1996 and Dee Margetts in 1998, while Labor’s direction of preferences to the Democrats ahead of the Greens won them one last victory in 2001. One Nation took a large bite out of the Liberal vote in 1998 and 2001, but on each occasion the early exclusion of the third Labor candidate left Labor, Democrats and Greens preferences deciding the final seat in favour of the Liberals. With the collapse of the Democrats in 2004, the three subsequent elections have followed the same pattern in delivering a clear three quotas to Liberal and two to Labor, with the final seat going to the Greens with help from Labor’s surplus. Their winning candidates were Rachel Siewert in 2004 and 2010, and Scott Ludlam in 2007.
The greatest prospect for a disturbance in the normal pattern is that the combined Labor and Greens vote falls substantially below three quotas, from its 2010 base of 3.05. The nightmare scenario for Labor in that circumstance would be winning only win seat, with the second left seat going to the Greeens and the other four to parties of the right. One possibility than then emerges is that the Nationals enter contention by absorbing a Liberal surplus and the vote of various right-wing minor parties together with that of Wikileaks, which has contentiously favoured them ahead of both Labor and the Greens. Critics of that decision include Christine Assange, the highly vocal mother of Julian, who has said she would vote for Scott Ludlam, a noted parliamentary champion of her son’s cause. There’s also a mathematical possibility that Wikileaks’ preference deals could indeed pay off for their candidate, Suresh Rajan, who would stand to absorb most of the micro-party vote in a four-way contest with the Nationals, the Greens and Labor, including such unlikely sources as Family First and the Clive Palmer and Bob Katter parties.
The Labor ticket is headed by debut entrant Joe Bullock, state president and former state secretary of the Right faction Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association. Bullock attained the position with the factional muscle of his own union together with that of the Left faction United Voice, part of a deal in which the nominee of the latter, Sue Lines, filled the casual vacancy created by the retirement earlier this year of Chris Evans. In doing so he effectively displaced from the Senate ticket his factional colleague Mark Bishop, who was his predecessor as SDA state secretary, and had the other incumbent, Louise Pratt, demoted from her number one position at the 2007 election. With suggestions circulating that Labor’s malaise in Western Australia might reduce it to a solitary seat at the election, the ordering of the top two positions was of greater than usual consequence, and the awarding of the only secure position to a factional heavyweight was widely criticised.
Louise Pratt entered politics as a member of the state’s upper house in 2001, having previously worked as an electorate officer to Carmen Lawrence and achieved prominence in Perth’s gay community. Her preselection for the Senate at the 2007 election was achieved with backing from the Left faction Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and its powerful state secretary, the late Jock Ferguson, which had withdrawn support from incumbent Ruth Webber following complicated preselection disputes ahead of the 2005 state election, with the effect that Webber had to settle for the losing number three position. Pratt won backing from an alliance of Left unions and the New Right, through a deal in which her vacant state seat went to Vietnamese community leader and New Right faction operative Batong Pham. Pratt’s success in securing top place was an early marker of the declining career fortunes of Mark Bishop, who had announced his intention to retire in 2006 before changing his mind after Kevin Rudd assumed the leadership that December. Bishop appeared set to be succeeded by the party’s state secretary Bill Johnston, another member of the SDA Right, who would instead enter state politics in 2008 as the member for Cannington.
Number three on the Labor ticket is Peter Foster, a councillor for the Shire of Ashburton in the state’s north and a prolific Twitterer.
The Liberal ticket is headed by David Johnston, a former state party president who entered parliament from the number two position on the ticket at the 2001 election. Johnston secured the top of the ticket in 2007, reflecting his promotion to the outer ministry portfolio of justice in March 2007. In opposition he was promoted to the shadow cabinet in the resources and energy and tourism portfolios, winning further promotion to defence at the time Malcolm Turnbull assumed the leadership in September 2008. Second on the ticket is Michaelia Cash, who was elected from number three in 2007 and now fills the vacancy higher up the ticket resulting from the retirement after 17 years of Alan Eggleston. Cash was an industrial relations lawyer before entering parliament, and is the daughter of a former Western Australian state MP, George Cash. She had initially been preselected for the all-but-unwinnable fourth position on the ticket, but was elevated to number three after the initial nominee for that position, Mathias Cormann, found a quicker route to the Senate by filling the casual vacancy created by the resignation of Ian Campbell. Cormann had in turn won preselection at the expense of 70-year-old incumbent Ross Lightfoot. Cash’s promotion up the order created an attractive opportunity in the number three position. This has been taken by Linda Reynolds, who was progressively chief-of-staff to former Senator Chris Ellison, a project director with defence company Raytheon, deputy federal director of the Liberal Party, and an adjutant-general with the Australian Army.
Seeking re-election for the Greens is Scott Ludlam, who entered politics at the 2007 election via a position as adviser to the other Greens Senator from Western Australia, Rachel Siewert, and previously with state MP Robin Chapple. Much of the publicity Ludlam has garnered during his term as a Senator involved his advocacy for Julian Assange, so considerable umbrage has been taken at the Wikileaks Party relegating him below Nationals candidate David Wirrpanda on their preference ticket. Wirrpanda is famous throughout the state as a veteran of 227 AFL games with the West Coast Eagles from 1996 to 2009, and was twice featured in a list of the ten most influential Aboriginal Australians in The Bulletin. The Wikileaks Party’s lead candidate is Gerry Georgatos, a campaigner for various causes who fell out with the Greens in 2009 after being eased out as its candidate for a state by-election.
William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, is one of the most heavily trafficked forums for online discussion of Australian politics, and joined the Crikey stable in 2008.