Western Australia’s Vasse by-election will be held on Saturday, to choose a replacement for troubled former Treasurer Troy Buswell. In the absence of a Labor candidate, the by-election looms as a contest between the Liberals and Nationals in which the Liberals start short-priced favourites, having outpolled the Nationals 57.3% to 7.3% at the March 2013 state election. Curious as it may seem to outsiders though, Buswell did have a very strong personal vote in his home base of Busselton especially, and the Nationals had no cause to mount a strong campaign against him. This time the Nationals are targeting the seat with a fair amount of gusto, and at the very least it will be interesting to see the kind of inroads they can make. In the last two elections before Buswell’s arrival on the scene in 2005, the Nationals polled just over 23%, having a locally well-connected candidate in Beryle Morgan, who was Buswell’s predecessor as Busselton shire president. Morgan made waves at the time by expressing her admiration for Pauline Hanson, and had views to match on immigration, foreign aid and public displays of affection between gay people.
The electorate draws around two-thirds of its voters from Busselton, from which it extends westwards along the Geographe Bay coast to Dunsborough and Cape Naturaliste, then south of the cape along Caves Road to encompass Yallingup and Gracetown. Outside of Busselton, the voter base is roughly evenly divided between the Caves Road coast, which is an extension of the Margaret River region in terms of being noted for tourism, surf beaches and viticulture; and more conventionally conservative beef and dairy farming territory further inland. Support for the Greens in the former of these regions has approached 20% in recent elections, while being less than half that in Busselton. The Nationals, predictably enough, are strongest in the latter area. Troy Buswell’s vote was 7% higher in Busselton than the Liberals managed at the federal election, but slightly lower in the Caves Road region.
The Labor primary vote last year was a meagre 12.4%, so their absence from proceedings this time around is a fairly minor factor. Presumably though the resurgent Greens can expect to benefit; beyond that, the main question is how much of the vote the Nationals can secure.
Candidates in ballot paper order:
Wayne Barnett (Australian Christians). Works in horticulture and a regular candidate for the party regionally.
Peter Gordon (Nationals). Owner of the Equinox café on the Busselton foreshore, along with a beach bar and restaurant at the town’s Broadwater resort. Also a former president of the Busselton Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Peter Johnson (Independent). Breaking the election candidate mould somewhat, Johnson is a former state president and life member of the Rebels Motorcycle Club.
Libby Mettam (Liberal). A former Channel Nine and ABC journalist and media adviser to South West Liberal MLC Barry House, who won preselection without opposition.
Michael Baldock (Greens). A structural engineer, and also president of Dunsborough Primary School parents and citizens.
Teresa van Lieshout (Independent). A recurring independent candidate who also ran for One Nation in 2005, and was initially endorsed as the Palmer United candidate for Fremantle at last year’s federal election, before her stern views on asylum seekeers caused a falling out with the party. Van Lieshout caught the feel of the electorate pretty well by donning a bikini and going fishing for her campaign promotional video.