Dumped candidates, the retirement of a popular outgoing member and concerns around the construction of a highway extension through wetlands will make this formerly safe Labor seat one to watch on July 2.
The inner-metropolitan electorate of Fremantle is one of the five original seats created at Federation in 1901, and today is known for being Labor’s safest seat in Western Australia. In the 2013 election Labor won Fremantle with a 4.8 per cent margin - one of only three Labor wins in the state.
The Australian Electoral Commission redrew the electorate’s boundaries recently and the suburbs of Bicton, Willagee and sections of Kardinya and Attadale were lost to the Liberal held electorate of Tangney, increasing the 4.8 per cent margin to 5.4 per cent.
Fremantle has been a Labor seat since 1934 with significant politicians including former Prime Minister John Curtin and former Treasurer John Dawkins holding the Labor stronghold. Former United Nations lawyer Melissa Parke has held the seat since 2007 and is widely considered to have been a popular local member with views that were more Greens Party policy than ALP policy.
University of Notre Dame Associate politics professor Martin Drum said the seat was “even safer under the recent redistribution” but Ms Parke’s retirement would "by default" reduce some of the Labor vote, as her left leaning views won over some Greens voters in previous elections.
The lead-up to the Federal election in Fremantle has been fraught for the major parties: The ALP candidate Chris Brown was dumped over claims he failed to advise the party of an assault conviction from the 1980s and the original Liberal candidate Sherry Sufi resigned after details emerged of an expletive-ridden, sexually explicit impersonation of his former boss, the now speaker of the WA parliament, Michael Sutherland.
Sufi’s campaign had earlier been derailed when The Fremantle Herald revealed the Liberal candidate was critical of the apology to the Stolen Generations, was opposed to constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians and claimed same-sex marriage could lead to polygamy.
Brown’s campaign had gotten off to a controversial start after he was installed as the endorsed Labor candidate at ALP state council over popular local choice, the Fremantle deputy mayor Josh Wilson who is also the chief-of-staff to retiring MP Melissa Parke.
Former WA premier Carmen Lawrence weighed into the preselection battle over her old seat saying Brown’s role as a Maritime Union of Australia organiser could cause voter backlash and a protest vote for the Greens.
Wilson was swiftly endorsed as the Labor candidate for Fremantle after Brown’s disendorsement and former teacher and Liberal Senator staffer, Pierrette Kelly, replaced Sherry Sufi as the Liberal candidate.
Greens candidate Kate Davis has been a steady campaigner for the seat. Davis is a lawyer and domestic violence campaigner and is considered by Greens party leader, Richard Di Natale, as having a chance of snatching the seat away from Labor.
Greens policy includes preserving the Beeliar wetlands and opposing the Perth Freight Link.
The plan to extend the main transport route for heavy freight vehicles from Perth’s industrial area of Welshpool to the Fremantle Port has been faced with community opposition since the 1970’s and is an issue that hits home for the Fremantle electorate.
The $1.6 billion road proposal would be funded by the Federal and Western Australian state governments.
Residents of Palmyra, a north-eastern suburb of the electorate, were told that their homes could be bulldozed to make way for the $1.6 billion project. Roe 8 could also affect archaeological sites through the Beeliar wetlands, including an Aboriginal heritage site located in Bibra Lake.
Notre Dame University senior lecturer in archaeology and history Shane Burke said although the site in Bibra Lake was “not necessarily a rare site,” the Department of Aboriginal Affairs should have carried out a more in-depth excavation.
“What we need to realise is that once you destroy these sites, you can’t put them back together again,” Dr Burke said.
“You’ve only got one go at it.”
Fremantle Chamber of Commerce chief executive officer Olwyn Williams said businesses in the electorate were concerned about the freight link. She said that a firm decision on this would help businesses “plan for the future”.
Drum said there was significant community opposition to the plan.
“It will play a major role in the outcome of the election.”
The Fremantle electorate stretches from multi-million dollar apartments in North Fremantle, down the coast to the working class, ship-building suburb of Henderson and as far east as Banjup.
The electorate contains essential infrastructure including Jandakot Airport and the Fremantle Port, as well as important ecological areas like the Beeliar Wetlands.
At the heart of the electorate is the small port city of Fremantle itself. Fremantle is a culturally diverse city, home to a University of Notre Dame campus and many cafes, restaurants and historic buildings.
A significant 29 per cent of Fremantle’s population are aged 55 or more according to the 2011 census and the electorate contains 15 aged care facilities.
Retired care worker and Hamilton Hill resident Marie Boyle said retirees wanted someone they could have confidence in.
“We want someone to look out for us in our old age with stable pensions and superannuation, and substantial investment in health care is important too.
“I would also love to see the city restored to its former glory, which would require significant investment from the government and support for local businesses,” Mrs Boyle said.
Many in the electorate want to see the harbour city undergo revitalisation similar to that of 1987.
“Freo received a face lift before the America’s Cup of more than $30 million,” Former ABC political journalist and political commentator Peter Kennedy said. “But there hasn’t been much investment in Fremantle in recent years.”
“The city is ripe for revitalisation,” Kennedy said.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics tourism in Fremantle generates around $780 million a year in consumer spending. Investment in revitalising the city has the potential to bring in significant income and is a “politically opportune” time for the parties do so, Mr Kennedy said.
Fremantle busker Callum Vincent, 18, said his vote would be based on candidate’s asylum seeker policies.
“Freo is the city of opportunity for up and coming musicians, and it should be the same for those
seeking asylum,” Vincent said.
Asylum seekers have received widespread support in the electorate through community events such as the Annual Refugee Welcome Fiesta and Walk which was attended by more than 4000 people last and supported by 20 community and advocacy groups.
Drum said the issue could see the Greens’ share of the vote rise “into the high teens”.
The Greens took 11.9 per cent of the vote in the electorate at the 2013 federal election.
It is difficult to determine the influence that issues like the Perth Freight Link or Parke’s retirement will have on Fremantle voters. But one thing is certain in this marginal seat, Labor will have to fight hard with a new candidate to achieve old results.