Canning by-election ‘a test of Abbott’s leadership’

It has been a safe Liberal seat for close to 15 years but with the death of the member for Canning, Don Randall, in July, it is now up for grabs.

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Even though the seat was held by Mr Randall with a very healthy 11.8 per cent margin, there is expected to be a sizeable swing against the government.

Some political analysts have predicted the swing would in part be because of the so-called Don-Randall factor is now gone.

Mr Randall was a popular figure because of his personal connection with his electorate often helping constituents with matters outside the federal realm.

But University of Notre Dame political lecturer Martin Drum said that factor was overstated.

“I think it’s worth a few per cent at least,” he said.

“However, I think it’s also because the Liberals have done very well here in the past and Labor’s done poorly, so that margin’s quite high and I think there will be a sizeable swing this time. It’s just a matter of the size, exactly what per cent.”

Dr Drum said the factor to consider in this by-election was the Abbott factor, with several polls suggesting the Prime Minister is not popular with Australian voters.

Liberal candidate insists federal factor not significant

“Candidates always matter in by-elections because they are the only game in town and they get a lot more exposure than normal,” Dr Drum said.

“However, I think by-elections are also a reflection on the popularity of government and a lot of those voters when they walk into the booths will be thinking about what they think about Tony Abbott and his government not just about the candidates.”

Liberal candidate Andrew Hastie, a former SAS captain in the Australian Army, said that would not be the case.

“I think the people of Canning are able to distinguish between state and federal issues and what I’m hearing is that they’ve got some issues that they want resolved by the federal government,” he said, “so I’m confident that they can make the choice.”

But Labor candidate Matt Keogh, a lawyer who grew up in the electorate, said voters had been telling him they were not happy with the Prime Minister.

“I don’t look at the campaign I’m running as a negative campaign,” he said.

 

“What I look at it is showing and highlighting the difficulties with the current Abbott government and the alternative that Labor presents in trying to address the issues that are important to the people in Canning.”

The seat of Canning is diverse taking in suburban and rural localities, as well as state Labor and Liberal seats, so the issues are not uniform across the electorate.

Drug ice crisis, economy emerge as key local issues

But crime, jobs and transport are emerging as key concerns.

In Armadale, south-east of Perth on the northern edge of the seat, fruit and vegetable stallholder Rowena Kinnane said she wanted a greater police presence in the small city’s CBD.

“Our problem here is the peace and order situation,” she said.

“I feel sorry for the businesses over there (down the mall) and most of them are for lease now because nobody stays, nobody could stay because of the troubles and such things.”

A rising ice epidemic in the state, particularly in areas like Armadale, is also of concern.

Local busker Reno James, who grew up in the area but now lives elsewhere, said he would want to know what the candidates propose to do about the issue.

“The sad thing about it is that it’s one of them upper drugs, once the kids get a taste of it they’re hooked,” he said.

In Mandurah, on the western edge of the seat on the WA coast, voters want a plan for how the would-be politicians plan to deal with the state’s wobbling economy following the golden years of the mining boom.

“What I want to see is a vision from someone, rather than blaming the previous people,” Mandurah local Karl Moyse said.

“Someone come in with a vision. Let’s come up with something that’s going to take the place forward to the future.”

It is a concern for the future that the Greens are hoping will be on people’s minds when they vote.

Canning outcome ‘will reverberate in Canberra’

Greens candidate Vanessa Rauland said the Greens knew they would not win the seat, but they expected a protest vote against the government for its policies on the environment.

“People are understanding that the Greens are not just standing for some hippie environmental issues,” said Dr Rauland, who is also a university lecturer in sustainability.

“They’re standing for issues that are actually going to ensure the long-term sustainability and prosperity of our country.”

Whatever the result, unless the Liberal party holds the seat with a healthy margin again, political analyst Martin Drum said its effects would be felt in Canberra.

“I think a Labor victory in Canning would be quite disastrous for Tony Abbott’s leadership, but even a big swing towards Labor could be quite de-stabilising as well,” Dr Drum said.

“So it doesn’t even need to be a defeat for the Liberals for him to be in a bit of trouble, and I think that a lot is riding on this contest as a result.”

The by-election will be held on September 19.