WA election: Barnett should win but not all lost for Labor

The Colin Barnett led Coalition is set to retain government in Western Australia, but Labor under Mark McGowan has shown encouraging signs for the future. Tony McDonough/AAP

Putting your finger on the pulse of the WA public can be difficult at times. Even the day before an election.

While the nation swims in federal polls, at a state level, survey data of Western Australians is limited. News Poll surveys occur quarterly, while WA’s single daily, The West Australian, produces a Westpoll only occasionally.

If a week is a long time in politics, three months is an eternity, and so events we would expect to influence polls pass through the voters’ attention before their views can be recorded. The result is that it is difficult to identify trends in voter sentiment.

While fortnightly polling is not the answer, surveying the electorate every six weeks would meet the Goldilocks principle, recording issues resonating with the public, yet being infrequent enough to prevent poll fatigue and ensure that sentiment is not driven by recent results.

A low intensity election

The 2013 election campaign has been largely low key. Perhaps that reflects the widely held view - backed by all polls - that incumbent Barnett government should be returned comfortably.

It’s been a leader led campaign from both the Labor and Liberal parties, to the point where most people would struggle to name more than two or three additional cabinet/shadow cabinet members.

Western Australia Premier Colin Barnett is set to win another term in office in this weekend’s elections. Alan Porritt/AAP

Neither major party has provided an overarching narrative. Labor has campaigned on fixing Perth’s congestion crisis with Metronet and bringing down the cost of living.

The Liberals have focused on being tough on crime and big city projects such as Elizabeth Quay and the Burswood Stadium.

Meanwhile the Nationals, who currently hold the balance of power in the parliament, campaign on the success of their Royalties for Regions platform, and the Greens focus on transport, the environment and social issues.

Industrial problems for Barnett

Industrial relations threatened to become a major issue when the Premier conceded to the demands of nurses and agreed to a 14% pay rise over three years.

This backdown led to prison officers undertaking industrial action and demanding the same pay increase, causing the Treasurer to announce “If anyone else thinks that they can hold us to ransom in the way the nurses union did, they’ve got another thing coming”.

In addition, the Public Sector Union announced it was considering industrial action over the issue of job cuts. However, like most other issues in this election, IR doesn’t appear to have gained much traction.

Labor in trouble but Buswell attack stings

The ABC reported on Tuesday that internal Labor polling suggested a 5% swing to the Government, which would lead to a loss of eight seats to the Liberals.

On Thursday, bookmakers announced odds on Labor had moved out to 14 to 1. It has been suggested that a swing of this level will largely be the result of the poor standing of Labor at a federal level.

The Liberals have capitalised on the negative perceptions of the Gillard Government, running a group of negative ads with a “Labor’s a mess” theme, and a controversial border protection ad.

Opposition leader Mark McGowan and his Labor party will be satisfied with their campaign and looking forward to the 2017 election. Rebecca Le May/AAP

Assuming there isn’t a uniform swing to the Government, the late focus on Premier Barnett’s age, health and a possible Kirribilli style deal with Troy Buswell may impact upon the 30 percent of voters claiming to be undecided.

Labor may also point to the resignation of Ted Baillieu as an example of what could happen if Barnett resigns mid-term, although Buswell has declared he will “never be Premier”.

The key seats

Fremantle, won by the Greens at the last election should return to Labor, following Adele Carles’ relationship with Troy Buswell, which led to her leaving the Greens.

The Greens were seriously damaged by Carles, and are likely to suffer in the upper house as well, coming off a strong performance at the last election.

Following a redistribution, Morley (created in 2008 largely from the seat of Ballajura), is expected the return to Labor. The seat was lost at the last election when former Labor MP John D’Orazio, now deceased, ran as an independent, after failing to gain pre-selection, in part as a result of a Corruption and Crime Commission investigation.

Labor candidate Reece Whitby, a former Channel 7 reporter, is re-contesting the seat after being part of Alan Carpenter’s controversial hand-picked team of candidates in 2008.

Mt Lawley could yet go either way. Sitting Liberal MP Michael Sutherland has heavily advertised throughout the electorate for the past four years. However, after being dis-endorsed by Carpenter, popular former Labor Minister Bob Kucera will pose a significant challenge.

Swan Hills is also an electorate to watch. Currently held by the Liberals, the seat includes Ellenbrook, the destination of the “broken promise railway” from the 2009 election.

The Premier has also made it clear the rapid bus transit service that had been anticipated will not be delivered. Labor candidate Ian Radisich is the brother of former member Jaye Radisich who held the seat for two terms before retiring at the last election. Ms Radisich, the youngest woman elected to the Legislative Assembly, passed away from cancer in early 2012. The Radisich family retain strong connections to the area which may assist Labor.

The Liberal party is expected to pick up two seats currently held by Liberal leaning independents. In the seat of Churchlands, former Cabinet Minister Liz Constable is retiring, while Janet Woolard, is likely to lose in Alfred Cove due to a combination of the latest redistribution, Labor preferencing her last, and the negative publicity she received as a result of her son’s boating accident.

If the swing towards the government predicted by the polls materialises, expect to see the Liberals pick up Forrestfield and Albany, as well as Balcatta, where Labor member John Kobelke is retiring.

The Nationals are expected to pick up the former safe Labor seat of Kalgoorlie currently held by former Labor Cabinet Minister, turned independent, John Bowler, who is not re-contesting the seat.

National Leader Brendon Grylls, has given up his safe seat of Central Wheatbelt to contest the Labor held Pilbara. Given the popularity of the National’s Royalties for Regions policy in rural and remote areas, Grylls can feel entitled to be confident.

Four more years for everyone?

Nothing in politics is ever certain, but it appears Colin Barnett and the Coalition will retain government on Saturday.

Mark McGowan has proven an adept campaigner and Labor will take heart from its efforts in this campaign, especially given the drag created by their federal cousins and the fact that they are battling a first term government.

Given his performance since taking over from Eric Ripper, we would expect that McGowan will continue on as Labor leader in the event of a Liberal victory.