Kalgoorlie was one of the Western Australian regional seats whose politics was upended by the introduction of one-vote one-value electoral boundaries. As was also the case with Albany and Geraldton, a small urban seat suddenly expanded to include rural areas. And in the case of Kalgoorlie, to include vast remote districts.
It wasn’t just new boundaries that changed the political complexion of Kalgoorlie. Labor had already lost the seat in 2001 as the result of a decline in Labor support that began in the 1980s.
(This post is an extract from the Kalgoorlie page of my 2021 WA Election guide. You can find the full electorate profile here.)
Kalgoorlie was an ultra-safe Labor seat through most of its history, but began to drift away from Labor in the 1980s and was won by the Liberal Party in 2001. Since then the seat has chopped and changed party, with only one of the past five elections seeing a sitting member re-elected. Members for the seat since 1981 are –
- 1981-1996 – Ian Taylor (Labor) – retired at by-election
- 1996-2001 – Megan Anwyl (Labor) – defeated
- 2001-2008 – Matt Birney (Liberal) – retired
- 2008-2013 – John Bowler (Independent) – retired 2013. Former Labor MP for Eyre and Murchison-Eyre 2001-08.
- 2013-2017 – Wendy Duncan (National) – retired
- Since 2017 – Kyran O’Donnell (Liberal) – re-contesting
A dramatic change in the population of Kalgoorlie came about with the introduction of one-vote one-value electoral boundaries in 2008. Where previously Kalgoorlie just covered the city of Kalgoorlie, in 2008 it expended north into the centre of the state taking in rural areas and remote desert regions. It changed again in 2017 when Esperance was transferred from Mining and Pastoral Region to Agricultural Region. Boulder was included in Kalgoorlie as the seat stretched south to also include Kambalda and Norseman.
As the map below shows, Kalgoorlie expanded from a small dot on the map in 2005, to an electorate more than twice the size of Victoria and Tasmania combined.
These boundaries help explain the major changes in party vote recorded in Kalgoorlie, shown by the primary vote graph below. From three-fifths of the first preference vote in 1989, Labor slipped to fourth place in 2008 and third in 2013. Labor returned to second place in 2017, but with less than half the vote it used to attract.
As shown above, the decline in Labor’s vote began before one-vote one-value boundaries. Some of this was a consequence of the move away from constructing remote mining towns, most new mines developed on the basis of a fly-in fly-out workforce. Kalgoorlie began to host many fly-in fly-out workers, a workforce that showed less loyalty to Labor than workers in the old unionised mining towns.
There were also memories of the Hawke government ending the special tax status of gold mining, ending a legacy from the days when the gold price was fixed as the basis of the international currency exchange rate system.
Where once Labor used to win Kalgoorlie on first preference votes, by 2013 Labor had slipped behind both the Liberal and National parties.
The rise of the National Party in mining regions was one of the surprise consequences of one-vote one-value boundaries, the Nationals spreading their wings beyond the state’s wheatbelt in an attempt to stay relevant. The National Party’s insistence on its royalties for regions program after 2008 helped the party win O’Connor at the 2010 Federal election, and win Kalgoorlie in 2013.
A vigorous campaign by mining groups against the National’s proposal to increase legacy mining royalties may have played a part in the Liberals winning in 2017. But given how Kalgoorlie has chopped and changed party in the last two decades, new Liberal MP Kyran O’Donnell won’t be able to rest on his laurels in 2021.
In 2017 the Liberals polled 28.0% to Labor 26.1% and National 24.4%. Had the Nationals finished second, they probably would have won on preferences. As has been the case in recent years, who wins Kalgoorlie could be decided by who finishes third.