The West

Change puts Balcatta in the balance
Candidates: Janet Pettigrew (Labor) and Chris Hatton (Liberal) in Balcatta. Picture: Simon Santi/The West Australian

The retirement of stalwart John Kobelke and the changing demographics in Balcatta make it the seat Liberal strategists are most confident of pinching off Labor.

But frenetic campaigning by Liberal candidate Chris Hatton and his Labor rival Janet Pettigrew suggest they see the result as far from assured.

When _The West Australian _brought them together for a photograph yesterday, Ms Pettigrew had already held 40 "street corner meetings" and Mr Hatton's name was everywhere.

Regardless of the result, Balcatta will have a new MP on March 10.

The electorate's prominent Italian, Macedonian and Eastern European communities have entrenched Labor for decades.

Indeed, when views were canvassed at Osborne Shopping Centre on Main Street this week, Macedonian local Kate, 55, said she didn't know either candidate but didn't need to.

"I will be voting Labor because I always have," she said.

But that rusted-on support is offset as affluence creeps north from Joondanna and Tuart Hill, where increasing rents threaten to force pensioner Elke Fluker to live in her 30-year-old Kombi van.

Fed up with both major parties, she wants whoever wins to create more affordable housing for the elderly.

Mr Hatton, contesting Balcatta for the second time, was reluctant to attribute his reduction of Mr Kobelke's margin from 9.9 to 2.3 per cent in 2008 to new demographics.

The teacher of more than 30 years put the result down to solid grassroots campaigning and said he was entrenched in the local community.

"I'm very proud to be married to an Italian for 26 years," he said, predicting the Liberals' tough stance on burglars and hoons would resonate well in the electorate.

Liberals are privately pleased Labor's pursuit of equal gender representation in Parliament helped Ms Pettigrew win preselection over popular Stirling deputy mayor David Michael. Ms Pettigrew put the 2008 swing towards Mr Hatton down to Labor's regrettable decision to call a snap election and wrangling over preselections.

Describing Mr Kobelke as her mentor, the WA Council of State School Organisations vice-president predicted two new rail stations for the electorate under Labor's Metronet plan would prove popular.

"People are upset with the Barnett Government because they have felt it in their hip pocket and in suburbs like Balcatta, and are no better off after 4½ years," she said.

The West Australian

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