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WA election 2013

Electorate: Vasse

Margin: Liberal 17.8%
Region: South West
Federal: Forrest
Click here for electoral boundaries map

The candidates

vasse-lib

LEE EDMUNDSON
Labor (bottom)

BERNIE MASTERS
Independent

GARY NORDEN
Independent

MICHAEL BALDOCK
Greens

JAMES WISHART
Nationals

TROY BUSWELL
Liberal (top)

JULIE WESTBROOK
Family First

vasse-alp

Electorate analysis: Troy Buswell’s seat of Vasse covers south-western coastal areas from Busselton and Dunsborough on Geographe Bay through to Gracetown and Cowaramup to the north of Margaret River. The redistribution has transferred 4200 voters in the strongly Greens-voting area around Margaret River to Warren-Blackwood, boosting the Liberal margin by 4.2%. This area had been gained from Warren-Blackwood when the electorate expanded with the introduction of one-vote one-value in 2008, along with Gracetown and Cowaramup and the rural areas of the Shire of Busselton.

Vasse was created at the 1950 election in place of abolished Sussex, which had existed since the self-government was introduced in 1890. Neither Sussex nor Vasse has ever been held by Labor. Veteran member Barry Blaikie was succeded in 1996 by Bernie Masters, who suffered a 13.5% primary vote slump in 2001 that put him in danger of defeat by the Nationals. Masters went on to lose preselection for the 2005 election to Troy Buswell, the president of Busselton Shire, and came within 210 votes of retaining the seat when he ran against Buswell as an independent. Despite the controversies surrounding him, Buswell enjoyed a substantial 14.9% boost on the primary vote in Masters’ absence at the 2008 election.

Buswell has had what could be described with some understatement as an eventful two two terms in parliament. Winning immediate promotion to the front-bench, he quickly became rated as one of the Liberals’ strongest performers in parliament, and was made deputy leader at the end of his first year. The first of his many brushes with controversy came the following March when he reportedly voted in support of Paul Omodei’s leadership challenge after pledging his support to Matt Birney, prompting front bench colleague Rob Johnson to label him “cowardly and gutless”. He nonetheless emerged as the main threat to Omodei’s floundering leadership, which he reportedly sought to secure by uniting members of his own faction, based around current and former Senators Mathias Cormann, Chris Ellison and Ian Campbell, with the opposing camp associated with upper house leader Norman Moore and perennial powerbroker Noel Crichton-Browne.

As the plot seemed about to come to fruition in early January, the first of a number of claims emerged of inappropriate behaviour by Buswell towards women. This prompted Buswell’s surprise announcement that he had decided not to pursue the leadership, as he needed “more experience in the House and more time to develop”. A West Australian editorial imploring the party to persuade Buswell to reconsider evidently echoed the feeling in the party room, and he was prevailed upon shortly after to call a leadership vote which Omodei did not contest, having read the writing on the wall. Buswell’s hesitancy about putting his name forward appeared in a new light the following April, when it emerged he had been seen by multiple witnesses sniffing the chair of a female Liberal staffer while making noises of sexual pleasure. This prompted a spill motion against him which failed for the want of a substantial alternative candidate.

The problem was ultimately resolved in August when Colin Barnett agreed to return to the leadership on the understanding he would not be opposed. Buswell was offered the consolation prize of the Treasury portfolio, which he maintained in government. The next scandal to rock Buswell came in April 2010, when it emerged he had been conducting an extra-marital affair with Adele Carles, the Greens member for Fremantle since a by-election the previous May. Buswell subsequently resigned on the grounds he had used a ministerial car and government credit card to pay for accommodation for himself and Carles, for which he would be cleared by the Public Sector Commissioner two months later.

Buswell returned to the front bench as Transport and Housing Minister the following December, and further gained emergency services a year later. His restoration was complete in July 2012 when he recovered Treasury, in addition to his existing portfolios, following Christian Porter’s announcement that he was moving to federal politics. Buswell had at first continued his relationship with Carles, but it ended in circumstances which would return to haunt him in December, with Carles accusing him of having a drinking problem and claiming he had embarrassed her by “dry humping” the leg of a businessman at a private party. Buswell filed suit for defamation, with the matter due to be heard in court during the election campaign.

Bernie Masters has announced he will again contest his old seat as an independent, having also toyed with the idea before the 2008 election.

Analysis written by William Bowe. All post-redistribution margins are as calculated by Antony Green at ABC Elections. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.

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