Candidates from four parties are lining up ahead of the March 9, 2013 state election to fill the shoes of Labor’s Carol Martin who is retiring at the end of this parliamentary term after holding the seat of Kimberley since 2001.
She won the seat on the retirement of Ernie Bridge, who was WA’s first Aboriginal parliamentarian and a cabinet minister in the Burke, Dowding and Lawrence Labor governments.
Kimberley poses particular challenges for the four major parties’ candidates, who are all contesting the seat for the first time.
Almost half of the electorate’s population is, like Ms Martin, of Aboriginal descent. The region is twice the size of Victoria, with six towns and hundreds of Aboriginal communities and stations. The two largest towns, Broome and Kununurra, have seen an influx of people from southern Australia.
Ernie Bridge, who held the seat for 21 years before Ms Martin, says it is important to be well-known in the Kimberley.
“That’s not to say an unknown candidate with excellent qualities could not be elected but it is a big advantage,” he says.
He agrees that a candidate’s personal following is more important than their party to Kimberley voters. When he left Labor to stand as an independent in 1996 he brought in a third of the primary vote.
We interviewed the candidates for the coming election to learn a little about their backgrounds and the issues they considered important to Kimberley voters.
JENNY BLOOM, LIBERAL
Jenny Bloom is a Broome businesswoman and shire councillor. She lists law and order, the cost of living and housing affordability as the main election issues. In her first media release she says her party will continue the Royalties for Regions program even if some of the Nationals MPs lose their seats to Liberals.
Ms Bloom says she has lots of support in Broome where she has lived for 13 years.
She established and ran a child care centre and is serving her first term as a shire councillor. On council she is known as an advocate for the proposed Kimberley gas hub.
She says she is probably not well-known outside Broome other than “by reputation”, although she has worked with a lot of Aboriginal people in west Kimberley communities and with councillors from the other three Kimberley shires. She says she once had an interest in a Kununurra business, and knows a lot of people in Derby.
Her party has branches in all six Kimberley towns.
JOSEY FARRER, ALP
Ms Farrer is the only Aboriginal candidate and has served as chairperson on several Aboriginal corporations. She is a former Halls Creek Shire President and has lived in Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing all her life.
She says the cost of living including water, gas and electricity prices is the “number one” election issue.
Ms Farrer declined to say how much support she had in her home town.
“After spending my entire life and raising my family in the Kimberley, I know a few people around the place but the Kimberley has rapidly grown over the last few years,” she says. “There are lots of new people to meet and old friendship to renew. People’s concerns and aspirations are diverse but, largely, Aboriginal people want the same opportunities as anyone else in the Kimberley. The candidates that recognise this and earn [Aboriginal people’s] trust will win.”
Ms Farrer did not say which towns have local branches, but mentioned Labor’s “Indigenous Network”. She said she had been campaigning “right across the Kimberley” from Kununurra to the Dampier Peninsula.
CHRIS MAHER, GREENS:
Mr Maher is a businessman, former Broome shire councillor and former public servant who has lived in the Kimberley for 20 years.
He says the main election issues are industrialisation, loss of local government planning control, community health services and government funding priorities.
“I think I’ve got a very good support base in Broome,” Mr Maher says. “I used to work for the public service … The role I had was coordinating services across the Kimberley for people with disabilities so I used to travel quite widely back then and I’ve got some networks that remain from those days.”
Mr Maher says his party has an “informal branch” in Broome, and he will rely on a network of informal Greens supporters in other parts of the Kimberley. He has been campaigning in Kununurra, Broome and the Fitzroy Valley.
MICHELLE PUCCI, NATIONALS
Ms Pucci is a senior manager with an Aboriginal corporation, a former state public servant with Department for Child Protection and a former Wyndham-East Kimberley Shire President.
She lists housing, community safety and education as the main election issues and emphasises the benefits of the Royalties for Regions program, which her party insisted on before agreeing to form a minority coalition government.
Ms Pucci says a lot of people in Kununurra and Wyndham know her well. She has lived in the Kimberley for 30 years, spending part of her childhood in Derby. Her former job with the Department for Child Protection and her present work with an Aboriginal corporation have required her to work with people in Aboriginal communities throughout the east Kimberley.
She says her party’s branch in Kununurra has been running for “a couple of years” and there is a newly-established branch in Broome. She has been campaigning in Derby and Broome, and is sending out leaflets to voters.
It is difficult to pick a clear favourite in this election. All candidates are new, and party loyalties among many voters are unknown. Ms Farrer’s opponents all agree that Aboriginal voters would not automatically vote Labor, or support an Aboriginal candidate. Ms Farrer herself says she will not take any votes for granted.
Apart from the four-year term Mr Bridge served as an independent, the seat has been in Labor hands for 32 years.While it was once considered a safe seat for Labor, the party’s primary vote under Carol Martin has been very marginal at 41.2 per cent in 2008, 39.29 per cent in 2005 and 42.23 per cent in 2001. Like Ms Martin, the next successful candidate will almost certainly need preferences to win. They will also rely heavily on branch members and other supporters who live outside of their own communities to help them campaign.
Readers outside the Kimberley may be surprised by the lack of emphasis on the proposed gas hub at James Price Point. Mr Maher is the only candidate to list this or any other environmental concern as a major election issue.
All four candidates say they intend to spend lotS of time canvassing and attending meetings throughout the region before the election.
Photos of Josey Farrer and Carol Martin by Geoff Vivian. Other images supplied.