A BY-ELECTION YESTERDAY in the seat vacated by former Western Australian Treasurer and “chair sniffer” Troy Buswell has seen the Liberal Party run very close by its National Party partners in the ultra-conservative electorate of Vasse; despite the absence of a Labor candidate, the result underlines the fall from public favour of Colin Barnett’s government, and serves as a warning to the WA Liberals near the halfway point of its second term.
A seat like Vasse is the kind of electorate that is unlikely to ever fall to Labor, which is part of the reason the ALP did not stand; even so, the Coalition government of Colin Barnett — re-elected 18 months ago in a landslide — will take much from the by-election in Troy Buswell’s seat, with the Liberals suffering a huge swing to the National Party that almost saw the seat change hands.
The foibles and misadventures of the outgoing member for Vasse are well known, with Buswell making international headlines some years ago after it emerged that as Liberal leader he had sniffed the chair of female colleague; since that time, Western Australians also learned that he had had an affair with another colleague, yet the Liberal Party won office in 2008 (in minority under Barnett) and a second term last year. On both occasions, Buswell increased his majority in his own seat.
Whatever else might be said about his antics, Buswell’s enduring popularity seems beyond question.
Yet a boozy drive home in his government car from a wedding in February, during which he badly damaged several cars in a number of incidents, and his subsequent resignation from Cabinet may have changed that; then again, the revelation he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder may have ameliorated this.
But one way or another, his departure from Parliament has almost cost the Liberals his seat, in a result that underlines the dissatisfaction with Barnett’s government that has taken root so quickly after its thumping election win last March.
Readers can access the statistical analysis from ABC election guru Antony Green here.
Barnett’s Liberals will be relieved to have held the seat; trailing in opinion polls for much of the year that show the Premier to be little more popular than former Prime Minister Julia Gillard at her nadir, there was a very real risk this seat would fall to the National Party’s Peter Gordon.
It is difficult to conclude the by-election confirms the apparent spike in
Communist Greens support in WA, with their candidate taking 18% of the vote; whilst the Greens polled strongly at the repeated Senate poll and record similar figures in most published polling of late, the fact Labor did not contest Vasse is hardly conclusive when it comes to claims of the “rise” of the Greens in the West.
At the risk of being flippant, the idea of the Greens winning responsibility for a seat that contains my beloved Margaret River, its pristine surf beaches and splendid wineries, sends a shudder down my spine. At the minimum, this result shows they remain a long, long way short of such a breakthrough.
Yet in a contemporary atmosphere of conservative state governments being subjected to absolute shellackings at by-elections over the past couple of years, this result in Vasse continues the trend; and it serves as a warning to Barnett, who must find some way to restore his government’s appeal ahead of a state election that — unbelievably — is just two years away.
In other electoral news yesterday, a vacant Labor seat in the Northern Territory legislature was retained by the opposition Labor Party, albeit with a swing against Labor of more than 4%: perhaps an indication that the tide has turned, and that the troubled CLP government is faring a little better than generally thought.