Durack covers a large area, and a large range of issues. The area is mainly concerned with mining, fishing, agriculture, and tourism. This means any changes to these policies will impact the way people vote. Taxes to mining, removal of farming subsidies and other decisions can greatly impact the region. According to the 2011 Census, Durack has 16.3% Indigenous residents, giving it the third highest proportion of Indigenous voters. The fly-in-fly-out nature of current resource sector work may have changed the voter profile, as not all workers live permanently in the electorate.
Durack is cowboy and crocodile country. Covering around two thirds of Western Australia, 1.6 million sq km of mostly spinifex-covered red dusty open space, Durack is the largest single-member electorate in Australia and the second largest single-member electorate in the world.
On that count, is it topped only by Nunavut in Canada.
It extends from Geraldton on the west coast to Kununurra in the north and inland to the NT border.
The sheer size of Durack means it hosts a significant amount of WA’s tourism and mining, and Australia’s pastoral and broad acre agriculture. The electorate also covers coastal areas including the towns of Broome, Karratha and Port Hedland, with important fishing and aquaculture.
The range and scale of these enterprises mean it is a huge contributor to the Australian economy.
In November 2015, Durack was re-distributed to include the local government areas of Bruce Rock, Narembeen, Quairading, Westonia and Yilgarn – that were originally part of the O’Connor electorate.
The changes, that officially took effect in January 2016, give the Liberal Party a slight advantage over the ALP. As calculated by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library, the new margin is Liberal 15.2% - up 0.3%. However, with Pat Dodson, a highly respected Yawuru Elder from Broome, recently announced as a Labor Party Senator the Liberal vote may take a hit.
Since its inception in 2008, the seat has been a safe Liberal one. First held by Barry Haase, the sitting Kalgoorlie MP at the time of the redistribution. Haase contested it in the 2010 election and again won the seat. In 2013 he announced his intention not to recontest and the seat was won by Liberal MP Melissa Price.
Durack is home to most of WA’s Indigenous communities. Indigenous issues, and the communities themselves are a hot topic right now, and have the potential to influence the election outcome.
The ongoing allegations of abuse within the communities and the recent suicide of a 10-year-old girl has brought funding for Indigenous mental health services back to the forefront of public awareness.
Alcohol abuse and violence are ongoing issues in Durack’s remote towns and communities, with alcohol sales restrictions in place in many of them and stricter regulations suggested in some.
WA Health Minister Kim Hames has applied for an exemption to the federal hiring freeze to bring more health professionals, including dentists, midwives and mental health workers, into the Kimberley area.
The rural and remote nature of the towns and population centres in Durack means employment is a huge issue. There aren’t enough jobs to go around and there has been discussion about ‘welfare dependency’ that led the Federal Government last year to pass a Bill allowing trials of cashless welfare system. Despite Labor supporting those Bills, ALP candidate for Durack Carol Martin has spoken out against the idea.
There is a curious link between the job shortages and tourism in Durack. For many years, many tourists in the remote areas of WA have been backpackers on working visas. Therefore the removal last year of the $18,000 tax-free threshold for backpackers and introduction of a 32% tax rate from the first dollar earned could changing the workforce dynamic in Durack.
This could be damaging to tourism, if it drives away backpackers on working holidays. Ms Price has said that the Treasurer plans to hold an inquiry into the issue, but nothing has been announced yet.
The mining, oil, gas and pastoral industries that dominate Durack make the environment a complicated issue, despite that fact that the area’s natural wonders are also its tourism drawcard.
Image: Tom Price landscape