Margin: Labor 6.8%
Region: Mining & Pastoral
Outgoing member: Carol Martin (Labor)
Click here for electoral boundaries map
Electorate analysis: The electorate of Kimberley has covered the northernmost regions of Western Australia since Kimberley East and Kimberley West (which had no more than a few dozen voters each) were merged in 1904. It has the state’s highest proportion of indigenous persons, which the one-vote one-value redistribution increased from 33% to 42% by adding Fitzroy Crossing, Halls Creek and surrounding Aboriginal communities. The electorate’s largest population centre is Broome, where slightly over a third of the votes are cast. Owing to the “large district allowance” which reduces the number of voters required of especially large electorates, Kimberley had 16,204 enrolled voters at the end of 2012 against a statewide average of 23,756. It also experiences unusually low turnout, which was at 62.0% in 2008 for a total of only 9861 formal votes.
Kimberley was held by Labor from 1924 until 1968, when misplaced enthusiasm for the Brand government’s pursuit of the Ord River project helped Keith Ridge win it for the Liberals. Ernie Bridge’s recovery of the seat for Labor in 1980 made him the first indigenous person elected to the state parliament, the second being his successor Carol Martin. Bridge held portfolios including agriculture and Aboriginal affairs in the Burke-Dowding-Lawrence government, but quit the party to sit as an independent in mid-1996. He was comfortably re-elected when Labor declined to field a candidate against him in 1996, and retired in 2001.
The seat then returned to the Labor fold when their candidate Carol Martin secured a primary vote of 42.3% and a two-party margin of 10.5%, making her the first indigenous woman elected to an Australian parliament. The Liberals’ campaign in 2005 was dominated by its audacious promise to solve Perth’s water problems by building a 3700 kilometre canal from Kimberley’s Fitzroy River, the announcement of which came as a surprise to their candidate Ron Johnston. The Liberals picked up a strong 5.2% swing, but Martin was nonetheless returned with a margin of 3.3% (having also lost 2.0% through redistribution). The one-vote one-value redistribution gave Martin a helpful 3.0% boost, and she went untroubled at the 2008 election with an adverse swing of just 0.1%. In September 2011 Martin announced she would bow out at the coming election, using the occasion to complain she had been labelled a “coconut” (the implication being she was “white on the inside” while brown on the outside) for supporting Woodside’s $30 billion gas hub project at James Price Point, the dominant local issue of recent years.
Martin will be succeeded as Labor candidate by another indigenous woman in Josie Farrer, former Halls Creek shire president and deputy chair of the Kimberley Development Commission. The Nationals had earlier scored in coup in enlisting Michele Pucci, chairman of the federal government’s local Regional Development Australia advisory body, whom Carol Martin had named as her own preferred successor. The Liberal candidate is Jenny Bloom, a Broome shire councillor and small business owner. A former Broome councillor, Chris Maher, is running for the Greens, who will be hopeful of garnering support as the only dedicated opponent of the James Price Point project.
Kimberley is the scene of the flashpoint environmental issue of the campaign, the government’s plan for a $40 billion LNG hub will be established at James Price Point site. The location is about 40 kilometres north of Broome, where it is a visibly divisive issue. Labor has been broadly supportive without being entirely committed, and there were suggestions early in the campaign that the federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke, was holding off a decision on environmental approval until after the election to spare McGowan embarrassment. The issue has opened a gap in the market for the Greens, who are enthusiastically opposed. However, the project is looking increasingly in doubt as project partner Royal Dutch Shell pushes for an offshore “floating LNG” option.
In other news, the Nationals have promised to use $125 million in Royalties for Regions funding over five years from a “West Kimberley Revitalisation Plan”, to be spent in various ways in and around Broome and Derby.