Safe Liberal seats in WA area crumble as voters register annoyance at being ‘taken for granted’

Two of Australia’s most secure Liberal seats fell to the margins for the first time in recent history, surprising people in the Western Australian region who feared their votes would not matter.

Political analysts say the fall in the Liberal Party’s primary vote reflects incumbent MPs’ “complacency” and a sense among mainstream voters that they were “taken for granted”.

Healthy margins held by former Cabinet Minister Morrison Melissa Price and Deputy Minister Nola Marino in the seats of Durack and Forrest have been reduced to less than 6%.

At O’Connor, Rick Wilson also battled huge job swings to see his 15.4% margin fall below 9%.

The three politicians have been in office for 33 years and have been elected for another term.

Many regional residents told the ABC on Election Day that they felt frustrated living in safe seats. Voters in Durack, Australia’s largest seat by region, have complained of feeling neglected and forgotten throughout the campaign.

Campaign promises in the bush were minimal and there were no high-level visits from either major party during the campaign.

‘Why vote? It does not matter’

Jodie Lucas and Derek Stoney have lived in Karratha for 14 years and treated voting in Durack as a formality on Saturday.

“As long as my name is checked, it’s fine,” Ms Lucas said.

“I just feel like they already know who’s going to win before we vote.”

A man and women wearing sunglasses pose for a photo in front of a brick wall
Jodie Lucas and Derek Stoney, constituents of Karratha.(ABC Pilbara: Verity Gorman)

Ms Lucas said many of her friends felt the same way.

“That’s what they all think. Why vote? It doesn’t matter anyway,” she said.

Two women stand in front of a garden bed
Jonelle Green and her mother, Hazel, voted in Geraldton.(ABC Mid West and Wheatbelt: Cecile O’Connor)

Geraldton resident Jonelle Green said there was a sense of great apathy in a safe seat.

“A number of people said, ‘Oh, I’m not voting. I never voted “and I think that may be part of the problem,” she said.

Karratha residents Harry and Maddy said issues such as health care were important to them, but admitted they had not paid much attention to the election campaign.

Two young people wearing glasses eat hot dogs
Harry and Maddy say they feel disconnected from their local MP.(ABC Pilbara: Verity Gorman)

“I feel like I’m such a small piece in such a big move that it won’t make much of a difference,” Maddy said.

MP: Safe because we work hard

But Melissa Price dismissed suggestions from voters in Durack – the country’s fourth most conservative seat – saying they had been taken for granted during the campaign.

“I never believed that because you’re considered a safe seat, you don’t get so much attention.”

A man and a woman dressed in blue stand in front of a whiteboard
Ms. Price monitors the ballot on election night in Geraldton.(ABC Mid West and Wheatbelt: Cecile O’Connor)

“It is useless for us”

In southern WA, the Liberal Party has held Forrest since 1972 and some voters faced similar issues as they cast their ballots on Saturday.

Charlie Nadin said he wanted more attention paid to his electorate.

“It’s irritating. It’s like a lost vote, unfortunately,” he said.

A man with yellow glasses stands in a parking lot
Charlie Nadin is frustrated with a lack of commitment to issues important to him at Forrest.(ABC Southwest: Jacquie Lynch)

Mr. Nadin said the provision of health care and housing affordability were issues he said were not being adequately addressed at his headquarters.

“If you’re a federal member you should be pushing for these things for Bunbury and the Forrest area and I haven’t seen any evidence of that,” he said.

Bunbury resident Maria Samantela’s frustration almost kept her from going to the polls on Election Day.

A woman in a pink shirt stands in a parking lot
Maria Samantela and her family considered not voting in her ultra-safe seat.(ABC Southwest: Jacquie Lynch)

“We were like, who’s going to take care of the kids? We’re just going to stay here and not vote and pay the penalty,” she said.

“It’s no use to us.”

Forrest MP Nola Marino hit back at the suggestion that politicians could become complacent in long-serving safe seats.

Ms Marino made just two election promises during the campaign – for improved childcare and mental health services – the same number as her unsuccessful Labor challenger, Bronwen English.

Two women dressed in blue embrace each other
Nola Marino, right, saw her margin in Forrest reduced by more than 10%.(ABC Southwest: Jacquie Lynch)

“You never take a day for granted in this role,” she said.

“I respect the decisions people make, that’s our democracy.”

Ms Marino said she would work “very hard” to continue representing her electorate, but abruptly ended her interview with the ABC when asked what she could offer the opposition.

National seats could now be up for grabs

Political commentator Peter Kennedy said winning a fourth consecutive term in government would always be difficult for the Liberal Party.

“Seats like Durack and O’Connor really seem to be the heart of the Liberal Party and as safe as a bank, so to speak.

“In that regard, all candidates can kind of take things for granted…if voters feel like they’re being taken for granted, they look the other way and that’s what they did.”

    A line of men voted in the voting booths
The three seats covering most of the WA region could be up for grabs in the next federal election.(ABC News: Andrew O’Connor)

Mr Kennedy said the seats of Durack and Forrest were now in play for the two main parties in the next election.

“There could well be a huge battle between the main parties now for those seats,” he said.

“Labour might think, well, they might be on hand.

“If the new government thinks it has a chance of winning those seats, it will get more attention.”

A line of corflutes along the fence of a vacant block
Corflutes for Liberal MP Melissa Price in Broome during the campaign.(ABC Kimberley: Jessica Hayes)

WA political speaker Martin Drum said voters in safe seats would always be absent, compared to hotly contested electorates.

“Your political leaders will spend most of their time trying to cover marginal seats and win over voters there…and the safest seats just don’t get attention,” he said. .

“There are far fewer opportunities to get your favorite project supported if you’re a local member or a candidate for Forrest’s seat.”

Rick Wilson made no apologies for this strategy.

A man in a suit speaking on a podium at a reception center
Rick Wilson’s margin was reduced by more than nine percent.(PA: Andy Tyndall)

“So no, I have no problem with more resources or more effort for those seats because, on the other hand, Labor hasn’t put a huge amount of resources into my seat either.

“An integral part of being a member of a party and you know how to be a team player is that those resources, if they have to be spent on other seats, that’s where they should be spent. .”

Voters control safe seats

In Mr Wilson’s seat, truck driver Caleb Truscott said he was unimpressed with the campaign promises of any of the candidates.

Two people stand on a hill with the ocean in the background
Caleb Truscott and his partner June.(ABC Great Southern: Kyle Pauletto)

“They all seem to be throwing the same amount of money…I drive enough to see all the roadwork going on…it’s not enough.”

But Mr Truscott said it was the voters who controlled the safe seats.

“I guess that means [the Coalition] do a good job if everyone keeps electing them,” he said.

A WA Liberal Party spokesperson told the ABC that a review of the election results would be carried out in the coming weeks, including all regional seats.

Additional reporting by Verity Gorman, Cecile O’Connor and Kyle Pauletto.

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