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OPINION | Country WA sends clear message to pollies

Well, that happened. Scott Morrison and the Coalition won an election once thought unwinnable.

For months Bill Shorten was labelled the Steven Bradbury of politics, but it turns out that moniker should have been placed on ScoMo all along.

WA’s regional seats were never going to fall, but there was a general expectation the Liberal incumbents would at least see numbers shaved off their primary votes.

In reality, the opposite has happened, and it has left many—journalists, pollsters, politicians and voters alike—scratching their heads.

Meliss-ing in action

Durack MP Melissa Price had a target painted on her back over the course of the election campaign, and Morrison’s Environment Minister was regularly ridiculed for going missing during the five-week battle.

The truth is, for the east coast at least, she did go missing. It was the best thing she could have done.

People who watch the news in Melbourne, Sydney or in South Australia don’t vote for Price.

The people who elect Ms Price are those who live in her seat — which covers 1.6 million square kilometres — and that is where she was.

While Ms Price has frustrated many journalists over the past few months with her repeated failures to respond to questions or take part in interviews, she has been busy on the ground meeting voters and shaking hands.

As the polls last night show, that is what matters.

Not only has the so-called ‘missing minister’ once again held on to her seat, she has increased her personal vote by 2.5 per cent. The margin is back out towards 15 per cent.

Time for a rethink

The WA Nationals appeared to do everything right this election, yet when the dust settles their primary vote will have fallen by about five per cent across the regional seats.

They picked candidates who were likeable and well-known in their home towns, they pitched policies which were popular across a broad demographic range, and their lead Senate candidate visited just about every WA town to sell the message.

Nationals' candidate for O'Connor John Hassell hands out fliers at the Albany Town Hall.Nationals' candidate for O'Connor John Hassell hands out fliers at the Albany Town Hall.
Camera IconNationals’ candidate for O’Connor John Hassell hands out fliers at the Albany Town Hall.Picture: Laurie Benson Albany Advertiser

The Nationals gained a small swing nationwide. WA was the State they lost the most ground.

One Nation, United Australia Party, Western Australia Party, and the Australian Christians all gained more primary votes in WA than the Nationals.

Unfavourable spots on the ballot papers didn’t help, but this is the second time in three years the WA Nats have been hit hard by election losses.

Labor’s failure is the big story of the weekend, but equally the WA Nationals are going to have to go on a bit of a soul-searching mission to figure out why elections aren’t going their way in WA.

One Nation

Did anyone hear anything from the regional One Nation candidates this election campaign? No? Didn’t think so.

The divisive conservative party once again proved they have to be taken seriously.

They were written off many times this campaign, most notably after being sprung entertaining the thought of selling out Australia’s gun laws with American gun lobbyists.

Yet once again their candidates polled between 5 per cent and 10 per cent of the vote across regional WA.

Those preferences matter, and they are never going to flow to the left side of politics.

Labor needs a tactic to deal with them. The only problem is no one quite knows how to go about it.

Where’s the Left?

Left-leaning types may have been accusing Ms Price of going AWOL, but in reality it was the Left side of politics missing on regional ballot papers in the Federal election.

There were plenty of Right-wing minor parties to choose from in O’Connor, Durack, Forrest and Pearce.

But did anyone spot their Left-wing equivalents?

No, the only Left-leaning minor party on the regional ballot papers was the Greens.

Animal activists are making plenty of noise about politics, but they seem unwilling to put their money where their mouths are and run for the seats where their actions have most impact.

As the old saying goes, ‘put up or shut up’.

Labor’s bush vote

We have all heard the line many times before.

“This was a Federal election fought on Federal issues,” Labor may claim of last night’s result.

Mark McGowan and his State colleagues were front and centre of this campaign though, and his party’s Federal candidates in the bush got wiped out.

In Durack and Forrest, where common words following Liberal incumbents’ names in news stories were ‘failed to respond’, the Labor vote fell. In Durack it fell more than 4 per cent.

In Pearce, a seat the party thought they had a shot at, Labor’s primary vote fell 4 per cent.

The only shining light — more of a single LED bulb in a big, dark room — was Shelley Payne in O’Connor, who appears to have at least managed a small swing in Labor’s favour.

Labor ran a brilliant State election campaign in regional WA in 2017 and were rightly rewarded, but the years since have been plagued by backflips and controversies on the regional policy front.

We won’t know for sure whether or not this has affected votes at a Federal level, but there have been plenty of everyday country mums and dads picking up placards to campaign against Labor thanks to unpopular policies thought up within the State arena.

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