Leaders do combat in WA
On for young and old: Tony Abbott greets Jonathan Brockman, nine-month-old son of Liberal Senate candidate Slade Brockman. Picture: Nic Ellis/The West Australian

Battlelines for the State's historic half-Senate election were drawn yesterday as three Federal party leaders descended on Perth to make it the epicentre of national political combat for a day.

So often an electoral afterthought, WA became the focus of duelling pitches, with the coalition's planned repeal of carbon and mining taxes juxtaposed against Labor's focus on jobs and cuts to health and welfare.

Tony Abbott's first trip west for the campaign drew an immediate concession on homelessness as he pledged to "not let the people of WA down" over $14 million a year in national partnership funding, which is due to expire on June 30.

"I have heard the plea from the Premier on this issue and I just want to assure the Premier and the people of Western Australia that we're not going to let them down on this particular matter," the Prime Minister said.

Bill Shorten became the first Federal Labor leader to address the WA branch's caucus in at least 17 years, while across town Greens leader Christine Milne campaigned for a threatened species - Senator Scott Ludlam.

Mr Shorten and Senator Milne struck on a theme West Australians will hear plenty of in the coming weeks, with both leaders demanding Mr Abbott release his Commission of Audit find- ings before the April 5 Senate election.

Senator Milne said none of Mr Abbott's pledges could be trusted until he "revealed to the people of WA what he intended to cut and take away from them in this year's Budget".

"The Commission of Audit report is with the Government," she said.

"The fact that he has not released it before the WA Senate election tells you everything you need to know."

In a reversal of WA Opposition Leader Mark McGowan's habit of making himself scarce when former PM Julia Gillard was in town, he rolled out the welcome carpet for Mr Shorten and his deputy Tanya Plibersek at State Parliament.

Mr Shorten sought to link Mr Abbott with the Barnett Government's clamp on education funding, claiming Liberals had a habit of cutting services after elections.

"This Senate election is about sending a message to Tony Abbott and Colin Barnett that West Australians love their quality of life here," he said.

"They want to make sure that their families can get access to the best quality health care and they want their kids to get the best quality education."

Having reassured West Australians that they would not lose on homeless funding, Mr Abbott was quick to turn his electioneering to more familiar turf, declaring war once again on the "anti-West Australian" carbon tax and mining tax.

"They would be gone by now but for the Labor Party and the Greens," he said after opening the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research in Subiaco, to which he committed $100 million as health minister in 2007.

Mr Abbott said the Commission of Audit would be released "at the right time, which is when we can properly respond".

All parties are desperate to replicate or improve on their best results across two half-Senate counts consigned to the scrapheap because of what the PM yesterday described as the "ineptitude" of the Australian Electoral Commission.

The High Court ruled the September 7 result in the WA Senate election invalid after the loss of 1370 ballot papers in a re-count.

The WA re-run election will decide the final shape of the 76-seat Senate from July 1.

Of the six Senate spots up for grabs, the Liberal Party hopes to secure three seats, which would take the coalition's Upper House representation to 33.

It would result in the Abbott Government still needing six non-Government senators to pass legislation - seven if the coalition parties win only two seats in the election.

The ALP will win a maximum two of the six seats, with the remaining seat likely to be won by the Greens or the Palmer United Party.

But an unpredictable ingredient in the WA poll will be the activity of micro-parties which, through complex preference flows, have shown a capacity to pinch seats from the bigger parties.

The West Australian

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