Grylls seat swap rumours deepen

Haidee Vandenberghe and Gary AdsheadCountryman
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Brendon Grylls is tipped to swap his safe Central Wheatbelt seat for the Pilbara next election as the Nationals make a play for more power across WA.

Mr Grylls' office might describe talk of the Nationals leader leaving the wheat fields of Corrigin for the resource rich Pilbara as pure speculation but it's done little to quash rumours about the move.

A spokesman for Mr Grylls said there would not be any announcement regarding the matter this week and if there was it would be closer to the end of next week.

When nominations close in April, Upper House MP Mia Davies is expected to be handed the Central Wheatbelt seat, which the Nationals held last election by an enormous 21 per cent.

Retiring Labor MP Tom Stephens fought off a Nationals challenge last election to hold the Pilbara seat by 7.2 per cent but given the millions of dollars of Royalties for Regions money funnelled into the Pilbara, locals believe Mr Grylls has a chance a wresting the seat from Labor.

Port Hedland mayor and former Greens candidate Kelly Howlett believes with the right candidate the Nationals could be a shoo-in.

"Now we've had four years of Royalties for Regions so we can see the difference it has made," she said.

"You can't help but see the difference the Liberal/National Government has made."

If Mr Grylls wins the Pilbara in the next election and the Nationals also keep the Central Wheatbelt, the party could have at least six seats in the Lower House and five in the Upper House, further cementing their position of power.

Political analyst David Black believes spreading their influence across the mining regions through Royalties for Regions was part of the Nationals' strategy all along but Mr Grylls running in the Pilbara seat represented a high-risk strategy.

"This is a strategy that if it comes off would be a great one," Professor Black said. "It's one that from the point of view of the National Party has got a lot of appeal but it does carry a big risk.

"Obviously running a strong candidate like Brendon Grylls and campaigning on the basis of what Royalties for Regions has done for the region, all of that would give them a much better chance but the question you have to ask is whether someone who has an absolutely safe seat in Parliament should personally risk that.

"He along with (Mining and Pastoral Region MLC) Wendy Duncan has been the standard bearer of the whole Royalties for Regions strategy and it would be seen as a major setback (if he lost)."

Boundary redistribution in the Pilbara seat as well as a change of Labor leadership could both be factors that play against Mr Grylls but former Nationals leader and deputy premier Hendy Cowan believes Mr Grylls can take the seat.

"I think he can but if he doesn't win it then that's a waste of a talent," Mr Cowan said.

"He's been the architect of Royalties for Regions … he would start from a very good base in Pilbara."

Mr Cowan doesn't believe there will be voter backlash in the Central Wheatbelt simply because Mr Grylls may move seats.

"From their perspective it's government decisions that form their opinion, not whether a person is or isn't going to move from one seat to another," he said.

"There would be more voter backlash with some of the decisions that have been made by government, such as the closure of Tier 3 rail, than any decision by an individual to go chasing another seat."

Nevertheless, come 2013, Professor Black believes the Nationals are in a strong position to cement control over regional WA.

"(There is) Wendy Duncan in the Mining and Pastoral region and the defection of Vince Catania has now given them what was the North West seat," he said.

"They ran second to John Bowler in Kalgoorlie and I think the feeling is if John Bowler stands down the Nationals would have a strong chance of winning there. The Kimberley seat is absolutely wide open."

Boosted by the strength of Royalties for Regions, the Nationals are also expected to do well in WA's other Lower House country seats, including Albany and Collie-Preston, where the two sitting Labor MPs cling to margins of less than five per cent.

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