Nola Marino is a Government Whip and sits on the House of Representatives' Standing Committees for the Environment and Infrastructure and Communication.
Forrest is a safe Liberal seat though changing demographics, primarily through migration to the coastal population centres of Busselton and Bunbury may change the overall vote. The loss of Collie, a Labor stronghold in the electorate, may strengthen the Liberal vote negating any demographic fluctuation.
Geographically large, Forrest covers the South West corner of Australia from Yarloop in the north to Augusta in the south, with major regional cities Bunbury, an export hub, and Busselton, a tourist hub, forming the service centres of the area.
Forrest has a diverse economy and is a major world supplier of alumina and mineral sands. Alongside industry and agriculture resides one of the world’s most biodiverse hot- spots, an ecosystem both fragile and vulnerable to climate change. Despite this, forestry, fisheries and mining prevail, often to the detriment of biodiversity. There are no signs that this will get better under the current leadership.
Created in 1922, Forrest is named after the first premier of Western Australia, Sir John Forrest, who owned vast tracts of the area. A stone head of Forrest watches over Bunbury today. Since 1949 it has been held by the Liberals for all but one term, during the Whitlam heyday of the early 1970s. Today it is one of the safest Liberal seats in the Federal House of Representatives.
Margaret River Shire is the most popular tourist destination in the seat. Established wineries and a beautiful coastline make the area a magnet for events such as the internationally renowned Margaret River Pro surfing competition and the Leeuwin Estate concerts.
In recent years there have been a number of destructive bush fires. Devastating and deadly fires in January 2016 destroyed the town of Yarloop. This made international headlines as it destroyed 72,000 hectares of bush, forest and farmland. The handling of fire management by authorities has attracted controversy, especially amongst locals.
“Firefighters couldn’t even connect to a water hydrant and just stood for two hours watching the town burn. The only people who saved houses were the local residents – FESA [the WA Department of Fire and Emergency Services] did nothing. I lost a great mate,” said Tony Elson, who stood on the oval with other residents as the fire burnt their town around them.
Tony Garvey from the nearby town of Cookernup, told UniPollWatch, “These fires aren’t just a one-off. Every year they get worse because the climate is getting warmer and dryer. We need all the help we can get – local, State and Federal. Why weren’t the ADF [Australian Defence Force] deployed? They offered help.”
A public inquiry is currently in progress.
The redistribution of seats in 2015 resulted in removal of Collie, the strongest Labor voters in the electorate. Premier Coal in Collie recently cut down production and jobs. Although Collie is not in the Forrest electorate, this loss of jobs will have profound impacts on surrounding areas.
“A lot of workers live in Bunbury, so it’s like if Collie catches a cold, Bunbury will sneeze,” said Michelle Smith, a Collie businesswoman.
The mining industry downturn has led to thousands of job losses for North West fly in, fly out workers and local mines are also scaling back. Major employer Worsley Aluminium recently shed 390 jobs. This is a crisis for young families with a big mortgage so unemployment is a critical election issue.
“Families are reeling,” Jim Condeera told UniPollWatch. “We’re no longer walking around with a fistful of dollars. Many local businesses are suffering – we’re not buying big new boats or cars anymore.”
Agriculture, while currently in a mostly optimistic cycle, has issues of its own. Mike Norton, long time President of the Farmers’ Federation of Western Australia, sees foreign investment in local farmland as a difficult issue facing the electorate.
“Policy needs to support young people staying on, or going back to, the land. While high prices of agricultural land suits the seller in the short term, in the long term young people are priced out of a career in farming,” he said.
“Margins in farming are both small and sensitive to market conditions. What farmers really want is government policy that doesn’t increase the cost of production.”
Long thought of as an idyllic place to live and work, the electorate of Forrest faces some tough challenges that may impact on the coming election contest.