Margin: Labor 5.8%
Region: Southern Perth, Western Australia
Outgoing member: Melissa Parke (Labor)
In a nutshell: The seat once held by John Curtin is to be vacated at the coming election, together with other two Labor-held seats in Western Australia, with the retirement after three terms of Melissa Parke.
Candidates in ballot paper order
Held by Labor without interruption since 1934, Fremantle is one of three seats left to Labor in Western Australia after consecutive electoral disasters in 2010 and 2013, and was the only seat retained at Labor’s historic low-water mark of 1975 and 1977. All three of the Labor-held seats are to be vacated at the election, the retiring member in this case being Melissa Parke, the member since 2007. The electorate encompasses coastal southern Perth from North Fremantle to Henderson, and extends inland at its southern end to encompass Jandakot and Banjup. The redistribution has truncated an area of Liberal strength on the southern bank of the Swan River, with 10,000 voters in Bicton, Willagee and Kardinya transferred to Tangney, boosting the Labor margin from 4.8% to 5.8%. A concentration of Greens support around the town of Fremantle allowed the party to win the state seat at a by-election in 2009, but the party is considerably weaker in the southern areas included in the larger federal electorate.
Metropolitan Perth was divided between the divisions of Fremantle and Perth when electoral boundaries were first drawn at federation, with both covering considerably larger areas than their namesake electorates today. Only with the expansion of parliament in 1949 did the port city dominate the Fremantle electorate to the extent of making it safe for Labor. John Curtin came to the seat in 1928 when he unseated an independent, William Watson, who recovered it in the anti-Labor landslide of 1931 as the candidate of the United Australia Party. Curtin won the seat back in 1934 and succeeded Jim Scullin as Labor leader the following year, although he was again run close in Fremantle in 1940.
After leading the country through the sharp end of the war years, and picking up a 19% swing in Fremantle in 1943, Curtin became only the second prime minister to die in office in July 1945. Fremantle was retained for Labor at the ensuing by-election by Kim Beazley, Sr, who would eventually serve as Education Minister in the Whitlam government. Later members for Fremantle were Keating government Treasurer John Dawkins, from 1977 to 1994, and former Premier Carmen Lawrence, who picked up a rare pro-government swing in the by-election that followed Dawkins’ resignation. Lawrence was succeeded on her retirement at the 2007 election by Melissa Parke, a Left-aligned former United Nations human rights lawyer who rose to the outer ministry when Kevin Rudd returned to the leadership in June 2013. Parke resigned from the shadow outer ministry in 2014 citing personal and family reasons, and announced her decision to leave politics in January, having become increasingly assertive in her criticisms of party policy on national security and asylum seeker issues in the interim.
Fremantle will be contested for Labor by Josh Wilson, chief-of-staff to Melissa Parke and deputy mayor of Fremantle, and for the Liberals by Pierrette Kelly, a staffer to Senator Chris Back, both of whom are late substitutes for candidates disendorsed early in the campaign. Wilson had initially lost the Labor preselection to Chris Brown, a former waterfront worker who had spent the past year as an organiser for the Maritime Union of Australia. Brown won overwhelming support from union delegates on the party’s state executive as the MUA leveraged its growing strength within the state branch, which overwhelmed Wilson’s 155-110 margin in the ballot of local members. However, he went on to be disendorsed in the first week of the campaign when it emerged his candidate nomination form had failed to disclose spent convictions dating from his late teenage years for assaulting a police officer and driving under the influence.
The Liberals initially endorsed Sherry Sufi, a former staffer to state Mount Lawley MP Michael Sutherland and chair of the state party’s policy committee, who had gained a reputation as an arch-conservative. Late in the second week of the campaign, a local newspaper reported Sufi had been recorded in 2013 doing an unflattering and profanity-laden impersonation of Sutherland. He was then hurriedly dumped and substituted with Kelly, an unsuccessful candidate for the earlier preselection. The Greens at least have had a relatively quiet time of it with their candidate, Kate Davis, a solicitor for tenants’ rights organisation Tenancy WA.
Analysis by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.