Life on the campaign trail in WA’s mega-seat
COMBINED they have racked up enough kilometres to lap Australia four times.
This band of seven travellers are not on a driving holiday around Australia, nor are they going the distance together. They are campaigning for the second-largest single-member electorate in the world.
At 1,629,858 sq km, the seat of Durack is more than twice the size of WA’s next-biggest electorate. It stretches from the Northern Territory border to Dirk Hartog Island, from Kalumburu to Southern Cross, and its sheer size also means a diverse set of policy demands and priorities.
The sheer size means Durack has a diverse set of policy demands, from farming in the south to mining in the north, and tourism dotted at all points in between. Indigenous affairs, infrastructure, defence, service delivery, environment and mental health also count among key concerns.
Liberal incumbent Melissa Price has ministerial responsibilities on top of representing the sprawling electorate, meaning she had a late start to her third election campaign, clocking up 13,500km in travel so far.
She told The Sunday Times the intense travel was not for the faint-hearted, but it was a duty she had grown to love.
“A sense of humour is essential, especially when you can find yourself sleeping in a different bed every night,” she said.
“I have learnt much about the logistics of getting around the largest electorate in Australia, especially when it comes to being time and cost-efficient.
“I really enjoy the campaign because you’re always bumping into people that you’ve met before or got something in common with. I love being on the road and I’m having a blast.”
At the other end of the scale is Exmouth’s Gary Mounsey.
The Western Australia Party candidate has been getting around the electorate with a caravan strapped to an 80 series Landcruiser and has travelled 7000km to date.
“I just rebuilt the engine in the 80 so thought I would give it a good run,” he said.
“I’ve only hit a bustard so far. That took my aerial out, which is pain in the arse because I can’t listen to ABC radio anymore.”
Dampier journeyman Scott Bourne has clocked up nearly 12,000km in his five weeks of campaigning.
The Nationals WA candidate is expecting to close in on 15,000 clicks by the time May 18 comes around.
“The size isn’t that daunting as I am used to driving down to Perth and having holidays in Broome and Coral Bay,” he said.
“You talk to yourself in the car a bit, you listen to audio books and radio a bit, and sometimes it is nice to just drive in silence for a while.
Mr Bourne said pubs and sporting complexes were the campaign points of choice in small towns, because “that’s just where people go to meet”.
Like his rivals, Brenden Hatton is rushing from place to place on the campaign trail. He has amassed a bigger travel tally than his competitors, having covered 15,000km.
We caught the United Australia Party candidate on the phone between hopping off a plane in Newman and hitting the road.
“It has been good fun, the scenery up here is absolutely gorgeous,” he said.
“Certainly with the pre-poll process and having such a large electorate, it is near on impossible to cover every booth,” he said.
“It is extremely difficult to spread yourself to feel you have got around to the whole region.”
In Kununurra, Grahame Gould can’t afford to stop work during his campaign. The One Nation candidate is relying on Facebook to get his name out.
“Before social media, running for Durack would have been extremely limiting for someone like me,” he said.
“I would have been limited to phone calls and word of mouth.”
Karratha’s Sharyn Morrow is Labor’s candidate and has teamed with Senator Pat Dodson for the Kimberley portion of her campaign, which has seen her fly, four-wheel-drive and clock up thousands of kilometres in her own car.
“It’s a real challenge to get around but it’s what you need to do so people actually know who you are — if you can’t get to a place, they can’t hear you,” she said.
Ms Morrow came under pressure last weekend after controversial social media posts emerged in which she had posted about refugees and welfare recipients. She yesterday said she was “deeply ashamed” of those comments.
For candidates the challenge is getting their name and ideas known.
For the Australian Electoral Commission, the challenge is making sure people can have their say.
Mobile polling teams are sent across Durack to help people who can’t get to a polling place on election day vote.
“Voting is more than a requirement, it’s a right and entitlement of citizenship: we want all Australians to exercise that right,” an AEC spokeswoman said.
The commission also released videos in Aboriginal languages this year to boost WA’s 63.8 per cent indigenous voter rate, well below the 76.4 per cent national average.
Indigenous voters make up about 17 per cent of the Durack electorate. The national average is below three per cent.
Greens candidate Johani Mamid did not respond to requests for comment.
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