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Most minor parties in WA contesting federal election on anti-mandate platforms

Country voters feeling disenfranchised by mainstream politics will be hard pressed to find a non-anti mandate alternative voice. (ABC South West: Gian De Poloni/Canva)

People living in regional Western Australia have the luxury of choosing from a wide variety of candidates at next weekend's federal election.

But country voters feeling disenchanted with the major parties would be hard pressed to find an alternative voice that is not an anti-COVID-19 mandate campaigner.

Aside from the Greens and the Western Australia Party (WAP), all the minor parties running lower house candidates in Forrest, O'Connor and Durack have policies spruiking "medical freedom" or slamming the government decisions to make vaccines compulsory for many workers.

Some candidates in the mix lost their jobs because of the vaccine mandates and several hold strong anti-vaccination views.

Anti-mandate agendas are central to the campaigns of almost all the minor parties contesting country seats. (ABC Kimberley: Jessica Hayes)

Policies derived from 'grievance'

WA's vaccine mandate, which encompasses about 75 per cent of the workforce, is one of the strictest in the nation.

Curtin University's extremist research network co-director Ben Rich said it was a concerning time in Australian politics.

"It's telling that neither of the major parties have put this on their platform," he said.

"[The anti-mandate parties] have very astutely observed in a notable amount of individuals in the population that there is this grievance out there and have been willing to capitalise on it and in some cases inflame it for their own political agendas."

Despite the over-representation of anti-mandate candidates, more than 95 per cent of the state's population received two jabs against COVID-19.

Voting is open in WA ahead of the poll on Saturday, May 21. (ABC Kimberley: Jessica Hayes)

"I have known many people who have been supportive of the mandates, or who have been supportive of the major parties but not the mandates, and they are really kind of scratching their heads at this point," he said.

Representatives from both major parties campaign side by side at a pre-polling booth in the regional port city of Bunbury. (ABC South West: Gian De Poloni)

Dissatisfaction at voting booths

The ABC spoke to several early voters outside a polling station in the regional port city Bunbury, in WA's south-west corner, most whom intended to vote for a major party.

Those who did plan to vote for an independent said it was an issue of dissatisfaction with the major parties rather than because of COVID mandates.

Gloria Speakman says she will be voting for a major party despite not being happy overall with the political climate. (ABC South West: Georgia Loney)

Gloria Speakman said she would vote for one of the two majors, but felt the independents had a big role to play and that no single issue was behind her vote.

"Nothing specific," she said.

Marco Hobbs says said the anti-mandate issue would not influence his vote, which would not be going to a major party. (ABC South West: Georgia Loney)

Marco Hobbs said he would vote for an independent because he felt the quality of the candidates for the major parties was so low.

He said his vote had nothing to do with vaccine mandates.

"It's pretty sad, when you see the candidates, that it's the best Australia's got to offer," he said.

"I just think it's just good not to run with the mainstream and to give other people a chance, given how low the quality of the main parties is."

Scott McLennan voted for an independent and had been supporting and handing out how-to-vote cards for some parties opposed to mandates.

"Major parties need to be held accountable," he said.

"They're just ramming things through.

"Mandates affected me — I had the jab that I didn't want to have.

Job losses lead people to politics

The Great Australia Party's (GAP) Tracy Aitken told voters on the campaign trail she was refusing to mandate the vaccine for workers at her Bunbury construction business.

Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party candidate Shane Mezgner is a practising chiropractor who refused to disclose his vaccination status to the ABC.

Australian Federation Party candidate Isaac Middle decided to run after he lost work because of his opposition to vaccine mandates. (Facebook: Isaac Middle)

Australian Federation Party (AFP) candidates Craig Shore and Isaac Middle were among those who lost their jobs after refusing to get vaccinated.

Mr Middle said that experience was his "main motivation" for his decision to enter politics.

"I lost both of those jobs and that sort of changed my outlook on life in many ways, and energised me to see if I could make a difference," he said.

While acknowledging he was in the "minority" of people who had chosen not to get the vaccine, he predicted the results of the election would reflect how many people were opposed to the mandates.

The three major regional seats in WA are currently held by the Liberals. (ABC Goldfields: Jarrod Lucas)

'Freedom' agreements between minors

Mr Middle also confirmed there were formal and informal agreements in place between the minor parties, including a preference deal between the AFP, the Informed Medical Options Party and GAP.

"There's also another alliance called the 'freedom alliance' which are political parties and organisations that are committed to helping and stand together on this issue," he said.

'Freedom' campaigners in regional WA include candidates from Clive Palmer's United Australia Party (UAP), the Australian Christians and the Liberal Democrat Party.

A total of 26 candidates across all WA seats have joined an official cohort of anti-mandate campaigners called 'Reignite Democracy Australia'.

Rick Wilson is among a handful of his federal colleagues who have criticised the WA's vaccination mandate rules. (ABC South West: Sam Bold)

There are some voices in the major parties critical of vaccine mandates, including the Liberal MP for O'Connor, Rick Wilson.

"Do truck drivers need to be mandated? I actually don't think so," he said.

"I believe that in Western Australia the mandates went too far and it's caused an enormous amount of grief and an enormous amount of heartache for many good people who basically want to decide what … they put into their bodies."

Mark Duncan-Smith says voters should do their research before casting ballots. (ABC News: Rhiannon Shine)

Voters urged to scrutinise messaging

Australian Medical Association WA head Mark Duncan-Smith urged people to understand who they were voting for before heading into the ballot box.

"I find that the anti-mandate agenda is pretty much a rationalisation for the anti-vax agenda and I really don't see a lot of difference between the two," he said.

"Anyone looking to vote for a minor party as a protest vote against Liberal or Labor has to look at what they actually stand for and make sure it makes sense to them.

"Don't just vote for them because they're alternative as a protest."

University of Western Australia vaccination policy expert Katie Atwell said while some of the messages from the minor parties were "not great" from a public health perspective, she said most people had already made up their mind about getting the jab.

Young voters wants politicians to focus on the future
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Dive Deeper:
Australian election 2022: from anti-vaxxers to revolutionaries, what do the minor parties running for the Senate stand for?
Know what’s behind the innocent-sounding names of more than 30 minor and micro parties running this election, and find out…
Climate change cutting across political left-right divide, Vote Compass data shows
Climate change is cutting across the traditional left-right political divide, helping explain why teal independents are gaining traction where progressive…
To Australians sick of the election: this is why voting is not a waste of your time
Early voting has begun and election day is looming. Many of us were disillusioned with politics well before the campaign…
We looked into the lobby group taking on rugby star turned would-be senator David Pocock. Here's what we found
Conservative lobby group Advance Australia has independent ACT Senate candidate David Pocock in its sights, with Facebook advertising data revealing…
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Federal election: Labor says Coalition's superannuation housing policy will inflate property market
Labor is warning the Coalition's proposal to allow first home buyers to use some of their super to buy a…
'Two wings of the same tyrannical bird': Newcastle 'freedom rally' urges voters to boycott major parties
Police estimate between 400 and 500 protestors marched along the foreshore before joining almost 100 additional supporters waiting in Foreshore…
Get all your news in one place