Electorate: Southern River
Margin: Liberal 1.8%
Region: South Metropolitan
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Electorate analysis: Among the Liberals’ gains at the 2008 was the south-eastern outskirts seat of Southern River, which covers the residential part of Canning Vale along with Huntingdale to the east and Southern River itself to the south-east. The seat has been highly marginal since its creation in 1996, at which time it had a notional Labor margin of 3.5%. Judyth Watson, previously member for Canning and Kenwick, was unable to defend the seat, suffering a 5.0% swing at the hands of Liberal candidate Monica Holmes after a 5.0% swing. The seat returned to the Labor fold with a similarly sized swing the other way in 2001, delivering the seat to former school teacher Paul Andrews.
There followed a redistribution which shifted the seat eastwards, changing it so substantially it effectively became a successor seat to abolished Thornlie, with the original area of Southern River forming the basis of a recreated Kenwick (again abolished in 2008 and divided between Gosnells, Forrestfield, Kalamunda and Cannington). The 5.5% boost to the Labor margin made the seat tempting to preselection predators, but Andrews was protected when the party’s national executive intervened at Geoff Gallop’s behest to guarantee preselection to all sitting members. He received a further 1.4% swing at the 2005 election, which Monica Holmes again contested for the Liberals.
Southern River was again dramatically redrawn at the one-vote one-value redistribution before the 2008 election, costing it territory in the north-east to Gosnells and Cannington (along with the Canning Vale prison, which for some reason has been transferred to Riverton), while adding the Canning Vale residential area from abolished Serpentine-Jarrahdale in the west. Just as the previous shift eastwards boosted the Labor margin, so did the move back westwards improve the situation for the Liberals, cutting Labor’s margin from 11.8% to 5.1%. This proved insufficient to hold back the substantial swing throughout the metropolitan area, which manifested in Southern River in a decisive shift of 6.8%. Paul Andrews had been battling serious kidney disease through his final term in parliament, and died a year after his election defeat.
The new Liberal member was the Reverend Peter Abetz, pastor of the Christian Reformed Church of Willetton and preselection aspirant for the state seat of South Perth and federal seat of Tangney in 2004. He is the brother of Eric Abetz, Tasmanian Liberal Senator and Right faction powerbroker. Abetz has not won promotion in his debut term, but he received considerable publiclity when a private members’ bill he introduced to extend protections to franchisees nearly made it through the lower house with Labor support. His Labor opponent at the election is Susy Thomas, former chief executive of drug and alcohol counselling service DrugARM.