As if campaigning across an electorate twice the size of Victoria, in the searing summer heat, isn't tough enough.

Try doing it in a mini-bus with a young family, including a new baby, in tow.

That's been the Grylls' family holiday over the summer break, traversing more than 7,000 kilometres of the Pilbara, the seat Nationals leader, Brendon Grylls, is staking his political future on.

"We're good at travelling, we like getting out and about," he said during an overnight stop in Karratha.

"My little boy was one year old during the balance of power election in 2008 so he knows all about it and he's a budding politician himself, the way he negotiates for treats and presents from the toy shop."

Spending quality time with his three young boys is the reason Brendon Grylls says the family will live in Perth, instead of moving to the electorate, if he takes Pilbara from Labor at next month's poll.

"As a Minister, your job is five days a week in Perth," he said.

"With a young family with three boys under six, to spend five days a week in Perth, with your family living in the Pilbara would be the opposite of the FIFO workers that I'm trying to cater for.

"I like to read my boys a story at night as often as I can, I like to tuck them into bed.

"If they're in the Pilbara and I'm in Perth I won't be doing that."

Fly In Fly Out MP

It's a decision his opponents have been quick to seize on.

Labor candidate and Port Hedland mayor, Kelly Howlett, believes the fact that she lives locally will strike a chord with voters.

"I know only too well the challenges," she said.

"I too have to get a doctor's appointment, a dentist's appointment, my friends are trying to get after school care for their children which is virtually impossible, I too have to go to the hospital that's run down and can't keep up with the growth in population.

"I have all those exact same challenges, I know what it's like, I'm not flying in."

Even from the right side of politics, Mr Grylls is being challenged on the fact that he's not a local.

Liberal candidate, George Levissianos, who is a Karratha businessman, says Pilbara people are tired of having a fly-in fly-out M-P.

"It may not be important to Brendon that he lives here but Tom Stephens didn't live here, Vince Catania lived in Carnarvon, now Brendon lives in Perth," he said.

With an electrical shop in Karratha's main shopping centre, Mr Levissianos has been selling more than flat-screen televisions recently.

"It's time we had a local to represent us in Parliament," he said.

"I hope to be that local with help from the Pilbara."

Mr Levissianos says he's not in the race to direct preferences to the Nationals but they could come in handy for Brendon Grylls in a tight contest.

On paper, the Pilbara is a safe seat, mainly held by Labor since the early 80s, but it's now wide open with sitting member Tom Stephens retiring and the Nationals leader giving up his safe Wheatbelt seat to throw his hat in the ring.

Cost of Living

It's in Port Hedland with its loyal contingent of Labor voters that Brendon Grylls will have to work hardest for votes.

Labor challenger, Kelly Howlett, is keen to highlight what hasn't been achieved by the National's Royalties for Regions program, the policy that requires a quarter of all royalty payments to be spent outside Perth.

"I guess what truely saddens me is that local, born and bred people who've been here all their lives, who know no other home are now being forced out," she said.

"That's wrong."

The Chamber of Commerce president, and local real estate agent, Morag Lowe, estimates the average rent in Hedland is still about $1,800 a week.

"This would probably be the most expensive property market really, in all honesty, in Australia and sometimes I think in the whole world," she said.

"All the land that's been released is literally not development ready, it's years off being in that position."

Ms Howlett says that as Lands Minister, Brendon Grylls has dragged his feet in releasing much-needed land for housing that would have brought down the exorbitant cost of buying or renting a home.

"The land is being announced and it's being announced several times but it's not development ready and that's the key," she said.

"Having land that's development ready, with power, with water, with sewerage, making those blocks available.

"I think it's actually criminal what's happened up here."

In Karratha, the seat's other major population centre, the Nationals' leader has plenty of support.

The flash new Pelago development, Karratha's first high-rise apartment building, has become a symbol of the Government's "Pilbara Cities" program, a plan to transform the dusty boomtown into a vibrant metropolis.

Bart Parsons left the Brisbane Hotel in Perth to set up the new place to be seen in downtown Karratha, a small bar on the ground floor of the Pelago.

He says Brendon Grylls will get his vote.

"He's done a lot for us here, people just know his face and know who he is," he said.

"Most of the young crew in town know that he basically brought this for them."

Unlike Port Hedland, Karratha's housing market is moving in the right direction.

"We're seeing a substantial reduction in both rentals and house prices in Karratha," Brendon Grylls said.

"Karratha's land supply is probably six to 12 months ahead of the land supply in Port Hedland but in Port Hedland over the next six months, we'll have hundreds of blocks come onto the market."

Misleading campaign

It's all too little, too late according to Larry Graham who held the seat for 16 years, the last four as an independent, until he stepped down in 2005.

"You can look at four years of Labor and you can look at four years of the Liberal/National party and you'd be hard pressed to vote for either because both of them have been disastrous for the Pilbara," he said.

"A three bedroom, one bathroom home in Port Hedland for $1.3 million, it's crazy.

"Grylls' Pilbara Cities initiative is a great initiative, it's just about $3 billion and about 4,000 blocks of land short."

Mr Graham says he was approached to run again as an independent at this election but declined.

"I'm not running, I've retired but a good strong independent with a name in the Pilbara could bolt the seat in with disenchantment for both the major political parties," he said.

"But, it's not going to happen.

"I think it's likely that Grylls will get up based on Liberal preferences from Karratha."

Everyone agrees that more funding is needed to address the decades of neglect.

But, it's the National's suggestion that only they can be trusted to continue Royalties for Regions that's causing tension on the campaign trail.

Retiring Labor MP Tom Stephens says it's misleading.

"Royalties for Regions is there by statute, supported by the Labor party, supported by the Liberal party," he said.

Brendon Grylls is sceptical.

"Labor and Liberal say that," he said.

"The history of the last 30 or 40 years would suggest that they've never done it before and the only reason they would be promising it is because it's popular now."

It'll be up to voters to decide who to believe.

Whatever the result, Larry Graham says at last the Pilbara, the powerhouse of the nation, is considered politically, not just economically, pivotal.

"It lifts the stakes on the good seat Pilbara," he said.

"I would have him marginally in front, I don't think it's going to be as big a win as he thinks but of course if he wins, then the Labor party can't form Government.

"It has finally become a key seat."

 

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