The Liberal Party is on track to lose one of its brightest stars in WA with Ben Morton suffering the fallout of being Scott Morrison’s right-hand man in a State that turned on the Prime Minister.
Mr Morton, assistant minister to the prime minister and cabinet, was headed for defeat in what was considered until last night the safe Liberal seat of Tangney — the high-flier a casualty of a tide of voters that swept away senior Liberal MPs across the nation.
Labor candidate and police officer, Sam Lim, reaped the whirlwind of a 10.4 per cent swing to be in the box seat to claim Tangney for the ALP for the first time since 1983.
With 43 per cent of the vote counted last night, Mr Lim was ahead on the two-party preferred vote 52.7-47.3 per cent and was cautiously awaiting confirmation.
With carnage across the nation for his party, Mr Morton said the Liberals may have been in a different position at the election if Mr Morrison had focused more on politics, instead of being only interested in results.
“Frankly, if he’d played more of the politics and not focused on delivering for the Australian people the result might have been different,” he told Sky News.
“I think it’s fair to say that the Opposition over the last three years has been focused on tearing down a prime minister who has been focused on a pandemic … and not played the politics.
I don’t think we left anything in the tank.
“If Scott Morrison wanted to focus on the politics and create a bigger buffer against the constant attacks from the Labor Party, then tonight’s result may have been different.”
Mr Lim’s party of friends, volunteers and family were gathered at Mount Pleasant Bowling Club when it was announced he was on track to win — but the candidate almost missed it.
“I was blowing my nose in the bathroom because I have a runny nose and then I came out and someone hugged me and tried to throw me in the air and I was thinking to myself ‘what is happening’,” he said.
“Until it is confirmed, I’ll stay calm and wait for more confirmation. Of course I want to win but I’ll leave it to God’s decision to decide.”
Mr Morton had held the seat by a margin of 9.5 per cent heading into the election and had earlier prepared his family, pictured, for a knife-edge night.
“I say to my kids, ‘today is dad’s big job interview day’, and 100,000 people in Tangney are going to decide if I get to keep my job or not,” Mr Morton said.
Mr Morton campaigned on a strong and functional economy.
Both Mr Morton and his Labor challenger Mr Lim have copped criticism for a perceived lack of connection to the electorate — Mr Morton for spending much of his time outside of WA and Mr Lim for living outside Tangney’s boundaries.
Early in the campaign Mr Morton sought to head off attacks about the time he had spent outside of his electorate, pointing out that as a close confidant of the Prime Minister he was in the best possible position to advocate for his community.
He also argued that WA’s long stint behind close borders during the COVID pandemic made it much more difficult than usual to shuttle between Canberra and his home and young family in Perth.
And although his home address meant he couldn’t vote for himself on Saturday, Mr Lim has made up, leaving almost no door in Tangney un-knocked.
“I am proud of our campaign and I don’t think we left anything in the tank.”
Mr Lim said the “cost-of-living crisis, the aged care crisis, and the need for a Federal anti-corruption commission” were the issues most frequently raised to him.
“Overall, (people) feel taken for granted, and they really appreciate me taking the time to knock on their doors and understand their needs,” Mr Lim, below, said.
Tangney covers the southern suburbs of Perth and includes the affluent suburbs of Applecross and Ardross, but also areas including Canning Vale and Willagee where the cost of living has weighed heavily on voters’ minds. It has been Liberal-held since 1984.
Before his election in 2016, Mr Morton was the director of the Western Australian Liberal Party from 2008 to 2015.
Mr Lim, who migrated to Perth in 2002, was Police Officer of the Year in 2020.