Margin: Independent 3.6% versus Nationals
Region: Mining & Pastoral
Outgoing member: John Bowler (Independent)
Click here for electoral boundaries map
Electorate analysis: Held by retiring independent John Bowler, the electorate of Kalgoorlie encompasses the city of Kalgoorlie but not its twin town of Boulder, together with the mining towns of Menzies, Leonora and Leinster further north and remote territory as far as the South Australian and Nortern Territory borders. It has had an uninterrupted existence as an electorate going back to 1901, although at that time there were no fewer than eight electorates covering the Goldfields. The electorate remained confined to the Kalgoorlie town limits until the one-vote one-value redistribution before the 2008 election, after which it covered 632,816 square kilometres. The latest redistribution has reduced this to 507,636 square kilometres by transferring the remote shires of Sandstone and Wiluna to North West, which is accordingly renamed North West Central, with a countervailing transfer of the northern half of the largely empty Shire of Ngaanyatjarraku from Pilbara. The main effect of the sparsely populated territory beyond Kalgoorlie is to make the electorate privy to the “large district allowance”, resulting in an enrolment of 13,173 at the end of 2012 compared with a statewide average of 23,756.
Kalgoorlie was in Labor hands from 1924 to 2001, being held from 1981 to 1996 by Ian Taylor, Deputy Premier in the Lawrence government and Opposition Leader for eight months in 1994. Taylor quit for an unsuccessful run at the federal electorate of Kalgoorlie in 1996, and was succeeded at a by-election by Megan Anwyl. Anwyl would become the only Labor member to lose her seat when the Gallop government came to power in February 2001, falling victim to the remarkable vote-winning qualities of Liberal candidate Matt Birney, who increased the Liberal primary vote from 32.2% to 39.8% in the context of an otherwise disastrous election for the party. Another major factor was the 10.6% vote for One Nation together with the party’s direction of preferences against most sitting members, which in so many other cases decided seats in favour of Labor. Birney was discussed as a potential challenger to Colin Barnett’s leadership during his first term, and assumed the position when Barnett stepped aside in the wake of the 2005 election defeat. However, he quickly ran into difficulties that were widely put down to youth and inexperience, and was ousted by one vote in a leadership challenge by Warren-Blackwood MP Paul Omodei in March 2006. Birney bowed out at the 2008 election at the age of 39, although there has been occasional talk he might return in a metropolitan seat.
Kalgoorlie was won in Birney’s absence by independent John Bowler, a former cabinet minister who was sacked from the ALP in 2007 after he was found to have provided Brian Burke and Julian Grill with confidential cabinet information. Bowler had previously been member for Murchison-Eyre, but was well known throughout the Goldfields as the founding editor of the Golden Mail newspaper. The primary vote for Bowler was 34.0% against 24.9% for the Liberals, 19.0% for the Nationals and 17.6% for Labor. Labor preferences helped Nationals candidate Tony Crook, now the federal member for O’Connor, to overtake the Liberals and finish second, but Bowler prevailed by 3.6% at the final count. In the days after the indecisive election result, Bowler undermined Labor’s already weak position when he said he would act in accord with the Nationals in minority government negotiations. In late 2012 he made a long-anticipated announcement that he would not seek another term.
Kalgoorlie will be contested for the Nationals by Wendy Duncan, who became the party’s first ever member for a seat in the Mining and Pastoral upper house region at the 2008 election. The Liberal candidate is Melissa Price, a lawyer who has worked in the mining and agriculture sectors. The presumed preselection front-runner had been local branch president Matt Eggleston, but he withdrew citing “a potentially life-threatening health scare” along with business commitments (it was noted he had also been fined after being caught driving at nearly three times the legal blood alcohol limit). Labor’s candidate is Terrence Winner, 27-year-old chief executive of the Eastern Goldfields YMCA. The Kalgoorlie Miner reported the party also approached John Bowler’s sons Daniel and Sam, to their father’s displeasure.