Liberal Party election campaigns are generally underpinned by the promise of more jobs.

Key points:

  • The seat of Roe is among the few statewide that is expected to remain conservative after WA goes to the polls
  • The odds strongly favour incumbent National Party MP Peter Rundle
  • Community leaders believe worker shortages and water security will be front of mind for many voters

But this year, Roe candidate David Dwyer believes voters in his region will be more concerned with finding workers to fill existing jobs.

“From Esperance to Narrogin, to Kojonup and all the way back, when I’ve talked with employers the real issue they have is that they can’t get employees,” he said.

The seat of Roe covers the southern Wheatbelt through to Esperance and is the fifth largest electorate in the state.

ABC election analyst Antony Green said it was “rock-solid National Party territory”.

“Esperance, which used to be in the seat of Eyre, was a Liberal-held for a long time,” he said.

“But two elections ago it was amalgamated into a new seat called Roe and it became a contest between the two parties … the Nationals won it.”

A man in a polo shirt stands on a beach with his hands on his hips.

National MP Peter Rundle is expected to retain the seat of Roe.(

Supplied: WA Nationals

)

Incumbent National Party MP Peter Rundle took 42.5 per cent of the first preference vote in 2017, up against Liberal Party stalwart Graham Jacobs, who received 23.9 per cent.

Even though Labor is expected to dominate polls across the state, the seat is expected to remain conservative.

That could see Mr Rundle secure a senior spot within the Opposition, if re-elected, although he did not yet want to speculate on whether he would make a play to become the National Party’s deputy leader.

“If the Nationals end up with more seats than the Liberal Party then it is possible for them to be recognised by the speaker as the Leader of the Opposition,” Mr Green said.

“But the difficulty for the National Party doing that is they would never be government — if there was a swing against Labor at the next election it wouldn’t be in favour of the National Party.”

A man stands in a white shirt near a tree, smiling.

Former accountant David Dwyer has put his hand up to represent the Liberal Party in the seat of Roe.(

Supplied: David Dwyer

)

The electorate’s largest population base – Esperance – historically voted Liberal, which would be an advantage for former local accountant and first-time candidate Mr Dwyer.

But he believed the recent admission from party leader Zak Kirkup that Labor would win the election had damaged his chances.

Mr Green said it was always going to be a difficult seat for him to win.

“[Former Liberal Party Member for Eyre] Graham Jacobs was easily outpolled by Peter Rundle last time,” Mr Green said.

The Labor candidate is Bradley Willis, who also ran in 2017 and received 14.2 per cent of the first preference vote.

He owns a small agribusiness in Katanning, and although he declined multiple requests to be interviewed by the ABC, told other media he would be campaigning on the party’s COVID-19 response.

Despite the popularity of the current government’s strict border policies, Mr Green said “it’s not the sort of seat where Labor is likely to break out of third spot”.

The seat will also be contested by Gary Jammu for WAxit, Nikki Starr for the Greens, Graham Bushby for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, Bevan Steele for Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, Nita Thakrar for No Mandatory Vaccination and Cathie Kelly for the Australian Christians.

Worker shortage issue

The ABC asked a number of community leaders what the top three issues impacting the region were, which returned some common themes:

Phillip Blight, Shire of Wagin President:

  • Worker shortages
  • Lack of rental accommodation
  • Water security

Leigh Ballard, Shire of Narrogin President:

  • Worker shortages
  • Mental health services
  • Water security

Ian Mickel, Shire of Esperance President:

  • Upgrading Esperance Senior High School
  • Upgrading shark deterrent infrastructure
  • Water security

Bronwyn McLeod, Esperance Chamber of Commerce and Industry

  • Worker shortages
  • Lack of rental accommodation
  • Lack of child care services

Peter Rundle, National Party candidate

  • Supporting small businesses
  • Improving education and health services
  • Water security

David Dwyer, Liberal Party candidate

  • Upgrading regional high schools
  • Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Worker shortages

Worker shortages are felt across the breadth of the electorate, particularly in the health, agriculture and hospitality sectors, and are widely believed to have stemmed from the federal government’s responses to the pandemic, closed international borders, and the JobKeeper program.

The situation was so dire that prior to Christmas the Esperance Chamber of Commerce and Industry ran a campaign urging locals to take on a second job.

In many parts of the region, the worker shortage is exacerbated by a lack of properties to rent, making it difficult for people to move to town to take jobs.

Last year the WA government announced those who travelled to the regions to take up jobs could receive travel and accommodation rebates, although this did little to alleviate the problem.

Mr Dwyer believed key to fixing the problem would be reopening borders to overseas workers.

Mr Rundle said the state government needed to prioritise policies that would assist small business owners.

A truck carrying water.

A farmer carts water from a standpipe at Cascade, an area that was declared water deficient for the first time last year.(

ABC Esperance: Emma Field

)

Water security key concern

Twelve areas were declared water deficient in southern WA last year, with water having to be carted to many of these places.

Esperance Shire President Ian Mickel said a long-term solution could be to build a desalination plant in Esperance and to pipe water inland, while the Wheatbelt shires said upgrades to pipelines and dam refurbishments would help.

Last month, the McGowan government announced a $7.3 million infrastructure plan to upgrade and refurbish 70 community dams in the Wheatbelt and Great Southern regions.

Nationals MP Peter Rundle said the $20m farm water rebate scheme, which reimburses up to $20,000 for applicants to improve water collection or supply works, would significantly help farmers.

The Liberal Party pledged $16m over four years to help local governments and organisations invest in dams, catchment management and pipelines and another $10m over four years to provide rebates of up to $25,000 for those who invest in infrastructure used for stock, crop spraying and fire management.

‘We need to learn to live with COVID’

Premier Mark McGowan’s strict COVID-19 border policies have been broadly applauded in Esperance, which is one of the first stops for those coming into WA by road.

But with the first round of vaccinations being administered in the town on Tuesday, Mr Dwyer believed a change of tack was needed.

“I’m very firmly of a view that we need to learn to live with COVID,” he said.

“We’ve got to be positive and proactive about managing the risk, in a way that means we can manage our economies, manage our workforce and give people freedom to move about.”

He called for more consultation between the current government and the chief medical officer with the opposition, to give the public confidence that health decisions were bipartisan and not politically motivated.

On the other hand, Mr Rundle was very supportive of the McGowan government’s track record on COVID-19 and its plans going forward.

“You might note that in legislation we’ve certainly supported the government wherever possible in relation to COVID-19,” he said.

What issues will influence voters in the Esperance, Wheatbelt electorate of Roe?
Source:
Source 1

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