Electorate: Mount Lawley
Margin: Liberal 1.7%
Region: East Metropolitan
Click here for electoral boundaries map
Electorate analysis: Located in Perth’s increasingly bohemian inner north-east, Mount Lawley provided the Liberals with one of their most crucial wins at the 2008 election. It covers Mount Lawley and neighbouring Menora and Coolbinia, noted as a centre of Perth’s Jewish community, together with lower-income Yokine and Dianella further to the north. The redistribution has added 3000 voters at Dianella and Morley from the electorate of Morley, set off by small transfers to Perth and Maylands in the south, which have cut 0.5% from the Liberal margin.
The electorate was brought into existence by the one-vote one-value redistribution before the 2008 election but had a previously life between 1950 and 1989, when it was usually fairly safe for the conservatives. Ray O’Connor held the seat from 1962 until his retirement in 1984, including through his brief stint as Premier from January 1982 to February 1983. O’Connor was succeeded by George Cash, father of Senator Michaelia Cash, who later found refuge in the upper house when Mount Lawley was abolished.
The area’s political complexion changed between its abolition and re-creation, such that the new incarnation had a seemingly comfortable notional Labor margin of 5.8%. About two-thirds of the voters were from the seat of Yokine, which was held reasonably comfortably for Labor by Bob Kucera. Kucera had won Yokine in 2001 from Court government minister Kim Hames, who was later to return to parliament in Dawesville and is now Deputy Premier. A former assistant police commissioner, Kucera was fast-tracked into cabinet as Health Minister, where he experienced difficulties that led to his demotion to Tourism and Small Business Minister in June 2003. His star has continued to fade during Labor’s second term in government: he was further demoted to Sports and Seniors Minister after the election, and resigned from cabinet eight months later over a failure to disclose a conflict of interest during a cabinet meeting.
When Yokine was abolished under the new electoral boundaries, reports emerged that Kucera was being pressured to retire. The safe new seat of Nollamara, taking just under half of its voters from Yokine, had been reserved for former UnionsWA assistant secretary Janine Freeman under a deal between the Right and “Missos” Left. Mount Lawley meanwhile had been earmarked by Alan Carpenter for his hand-picked candidate Karen Brown, a former deputy editor for The West Australian who had lately been working with former Labor MP John Halden’s lobbying firm Halden Burns. However, Kucera did not prove of a mind to go quietly, vainly contesting the Mount Lawley preselection and then quitting the party, initially with a view to running as an independent.
The Liberals meanwhile endorsed Perth deputy lord mayor Michael Sutherland, a councillor of 12 years’ standing. Sutherland achieved one of the Liberals’ strongest performances in picking up a decisive 8.1% swing to prevail by 1.7%. The result made the seat exhibit B for the folly of Alan Carpenter’s interventionist approach to preselections, after Morley where the ousted sitting member ran as an independent and decisively directed preferences to the Liberals. However, another factor may have been the government’s decision to downgrade Royal Perth Hospital, on which the Liberals had capitalised with a promise to maintain it as a small bed trauma facility. Certainly the Kucera effect seems to have impressed the ALP, as it has now turned to him to run again at the age of 68.