The Poll Bludger
Margin: Liberal 13.3%
Region: Southern Perth, Western Australia
In a nutshell: The Liberals’ hold on the safe Perth seat of Tangney has been complicated by a preselection coup against sitting member Dennis Jensen, who is now running as an independent.
Candidates in ballot paper order
DENNIS GEOFFREY JENSEN
Tangney is a safe Liberal seat in southern Perth in which the sitting member, Dennis Jensen, is running as an independent after losing preselection to Ben Morton, the party’s former state director. The electorate covers the southern shore of Perth’s Swan and Canning rivers, from affluent Attadale and Applecross in the west to middle-income Riverton further east, and extends southwards through Melville and Willeton to Murdoch and Leeming. The draft redistribution proposes the transfer of the large suburb of Canning Vale in the south-east and its 19,000 voters to the new seat of Burt, for which Tangney stands to be compensated by gains in both the west (10,500 voters in Bicton, Willagee and part of Kardinya from Fremantle) and east (5,500 voters in Lynwood and Ferndale from Swan). Apart from Bicton, the new areas are relatively strong for Labor, causing the Liberal margin to be trimmed slightly from 14.7% to 13.1%.
Tangney had a very different complexion when it was first created in 1974, at which time it covered a swathe of Perth’s south-east from industrial Kwinana on the coast to the outer south-eastern centre of Gosnells. Only with the enlargement of parliament in 1984, when the former area was transferred to newly created Brand, did Tangney become a safe Liberal seat. The inaugural member was Labor’s John Dawkins, who was unseated when the 1975 landslide left Fremantle as Labor’s only remaining seat in Western Australia. Fremantle would provide a vehicle for Dawkins’ return to parliament in 1977, and he eventually went on to serve as Treasurer in the Keating government. Meanwhile, Tangney was held for the Liberals throughout the Fraser years by Peter Shack, before his defeat at the hands of Labor’s George Gear in 1983.
With the electoral rearrangement of 1984, Gear relocated to Canning and Shack made a comeback in Tangney, securing the notionally marginal seat with a favourable swing of 7.6%. Shack held the seat on comfortable margins until 1993, and became notable as a supporter of Andrew Peacock in his long-running leadership tussle with John Howard, and for his troubled tenure as Shadow Health Minister. In 2013 he was convicted of stealing from his former wife’s family trust and sentenced to 14 months’ jail. Shack was succeeded in 1993 by Daryl Williams, who served as Attorney-General from the election of the Howard government in 1996 to 2003, and then as Communications Minister until his retirement at the 2004 election.
Tangney has since been held by Dennis Jensen, who had formerly been a former defence analyst and CSIRO research scientist. Jensen’s career in politics had a shaky start, as he suffered defeat in local party preselection ballots ahead of both his first bid for re-election in 2007, and his second in 2010. The winner on the former occasion was Matt Brown, a former chief-of-staff to Howard government Defence Minister Robert Hill, but this was overturned by the party’s state executive with the backing of John Howard. In 2010, local preselectors favoured Glenn Piggott, a finance manager for Toyotoa, but the party’s state council overwhelmingly voted not to ratify the result. This decision was said to have been motivated by concern at the loss of Jensen’s fundraising capacities, and his potential to retain the seat as an independent.
Meanwhile, Jensen made a name for himself for a number of conservative enthusiasms including climate change skepticism, opposition to the apology to the stolen generations, and opposition to same-sex marraige. The first of these causes prompted him to join fellow WA Liberal Wilson Tuckey in moving the spill motion that saw Malcolm Turnbull deposed as Liberal leader by Tony Abbott in December 2009. Five years later, however, he became the first Liberal MP to declare in advance of the February 2015 spill motion that Tony Abbott no longer had his support. This was said to have alienated conservative backers who had been impressed by his climate skepticism, which fatally undermined his already tenuous position.
Ben Morton, who had been in charge of the state party organisation through a period of considerable electoral success from 2008 to 2015, subsequently emerged as a challenger with a wide base of support. Jensen’s stated belief that he retained crucial backing from religious conservatives proved to be ill founded, and he went down to a heavy defeat in the preselection vote by a margin of 57 votes to seven. Jensen complained he had been a victim of “dirty tricks” from the Morton camp after news reports emerged last week concerning a novel he had written containing a graphic sex scene, which he says was designed to cost him conservative support. He has also launched defamation proceedings against The Australian over a report on Friday that he had moved out of the family home to live with his girlfriend at a property located outside the electorate. In the week before the election was called, he foreshadowed his independent candidacy in a speech to parliament in which he criticised the government’s record on tax reform, called for a royal commission into the banks, and described Morton as “the Liberal branch stackers’ and powerbrokers’ candidate”.
Analysis by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.