SA election: highlights of week one

One week into the official campaign period for the South Australian election, no indications have emerged to discourage the conventional wisdom that Mike Rann’s Labor government will easily secure a second term. Labor has had a clear two-party preferred lead in all published polling since it came to office (barring one aberrant Newspoll result from late 2004), and if anything this has widened as the election has approached.

How very different things might have been if independent Hammond MP Peter Lewis had done as he said he would during the 2002 election campaign and backed the Liberals to remain in government. Liberal leader Rob Kerin’s affable and non-confrontational style proved such a hit in his short period as Premier that he nearly salvaged victory for an accident-prone eight-year government, but these very same qualities have proved disastrous in opposition. Kerin’s colleagues grew increasingly exasperated by his lack of killer instinct as Labor cemented the opinion poll lead it opened up during its honeymoon period, and he suffered further self-inflicted damage through his hands-off approach to factional wars surrounding the Unley preselection and Stephen Baker’s removal as the party’s state treasurer. A successful leadership challenge would have been inevitable under normal circumstances, but such was the certainty of an impending election defeat that none of the credible alternatives wanted the job.

The comical coup attempt in November from Waite MP Martin Hamilton-Smith (which he was compelled to withdraw after failing to attract the eight supporters needed to call a spill) remains hard to explain. It was reported that figures in the state party’s Right faction (including federal heavies Alexander Downer and Nick Minchin) goaded him on in the hope that he would "open the way" for their favoured candidate, Iain Evans. It’s hard to see how this would have come off given that Evans is clearly intent on keeping his powder dry until after the election. The best theory I can come up with is that the party powerbrokers were rattled by the scale of the defeat that Kerin seemed to be leading them towards, encouraging the line of political logic exquisitely articulated by Sir Humphrey Appleby in Yes, Minister – "something must be done, this is something, therefore we must do it". Writing in the Sunday Mail on the weekend, Channel Seven political reporter Mike Smithson noted that Evans has been "virtually nowhere to be seen" in the first week of the campaign, with most of the weight being carried by upper house leader and Shadow Treasurer Rob Lucas.

The Prime Minister’s first and apparently final campaign visit last week proved of little help, as he proved understandably unwilling to endorse the opposition’s line that talk of a strong economy is Rann government hype – a point refuted last week by Richard Blandy, a former economics adviser to Dean Brown’s Liberal government and current Flinders University economics professor. Even more puzzling is the party’s promise to cut 4000 public service jobs and its ready admission that this will boost the unemployment rate in the short term. This might be interpreted as a defeatist gesture pitched not at swinging voters in marginal seats, but rather at traditional Liberal voters who might be persuaded to stay on board through a pitch towards small government and low taxes. It might also add credibility to their capacity to fund coming election promises. By contrast, Labor has the luxury of being able to stand on its outwardly impressive economic record and the highest leadership approval ratings in the land, prompting the campaign slogan "Rann gets results". While this appears to have a fair weight of evidence behind it, few have been persuaded by their claim to credit for the $6 billion Air Warfare Destroyer project bestowed upon the state by the federal government. All the same, Labor clearly has a saleable message and is putting it across through an impressively slick presidential-style campaign.

In view of all this, the seats to watch at this stage are all on the Liberal side of the pendulum. The Liberals hold seven seats by margins of less than 6 per cent – Hartley (2.1 per cent), Stuart (2.3 per cent), Light (2.6 per cent), Mawson (3.5 per cent), Morialta (3.6 per cent), Bright (4.6 per cent) and Newland (5.5 per cent). The last two are in as much danger as the first four due to the retirement of sitting members Wayne Matthew and Dorothy Kotz. Changing demographics mean that Labor cannot rest on its laurels in either of its two most marginal seats, Norwood (0.5 per cent) and Adelaide (1.1 per cent), but both appear to be off the radar at this stage. Putting the bottom end of the Mackerras pendulum to one side, and leaving aside seats currently held by independents (a subject for another time), local factors mark the following as roughies:

Kavel (Liberal 12.8%): Outside of the Poll Bludger’s election guide and Flinders University academic Haydon Manning’s summary in the Sunday Mail, there has been surprisingly little talk of what could potentially be the most sensational single result to emerge from the election: a lower house seat for Family First. There seems every reason to believe this might happen, because their candidate in Kavel came within 2.9 per cent of winning the seat as an independent in 2002. That candidate is Tom Playford, Baptist pastor and son of the legendary Liberal Premier of the same name, who held the office from 1938 to 1965. Playford the Younger polled 18.7 per cent of the primary vote in 2002, ahead of Labor (18.0 per cent) and the Democrats (9.1 per cent). At the penultimate count, Playford led Labor 28.1 per cent to 24.5 per cent, with the Liberals’ Mark Goldsworthy on 47.4 per cent. Enough preferences leaked to Goldsworthy after Labor’s exclusion to put him over the line, although Playford was reportedly in the lead at the close of counting on election night. There are two reasons to advise caution over his prospects of going one better this time around. Firstly, Goldsworthy was making his debut at the 2002 election, at which he replaced recently ousted Premier John Olsen. This time he will enjoy the benefits of incumbency, although it remains to be seen if this will cancel out what is likely to be a statewide drop in the Liberal vote. Secondly, the likelihood of an overall higher vote for Labor means he faces a bigger hurdle to win second place.

Finniss (Liberal 15.9%): Held by retiring former Premier Dean Brown, Finniss is well beyond Labor’s reach but it offers the National Party its best chance of extending an empire that is currently limited to Karlene Maywald’s seat of Chaffey. Their candidate is Alexandrina mayor Kym McHugh, who considered standing for the Liberal preselection that went to Kangaroo Island mayor Michael Pengilly. McHugh was ultimately persuaded to stand for the Nationals by Maywald, who along with Queensland Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce has been energetically campaigning on behalf of McHugh and other party candidates in Flinders and MacKillop.

Unley (Liberal 9.1%): Although well outside the range of a reasonable uniform swing, Unley bears watching due to a combination of factors: a new Liberal candidate without the advantages of incumbency, the messy circumstances surrounding the downfall of his predecessor Mark Brindal, and the appeal of Labor’s candidate, Unley mayor Michael Keenan, who was head-hunted by Mike Rann and installed without a preselection vote.

After a few more days of consideration, the Poll Bludger will append his election guide with predicted outcomes for all 47 seats.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

18 comments on “SA election: highlights of week one”

  1. well i finally post a comment on this site after reading all the articles and comments for ages – just to note William – that under Kavel in the above article it is correct by saying it is liberal – however – when opening the page for kavel electorate – it says it’s labor – slight slip there – just thought to let you know so you could correct it asap 😛

    Although I must say it would be interesting to see if Thomas Playford does make it into parliament – which would be the third generation – similar to that of the Downer family in Federal Politics [which is in its third generation]

  2. I live in the Bright electorate. On the ground here Chole Fox is running a high profile campaign with plenty of glossy publications landing in the mail box every day (four in the last five days!). Angus Redford has been very quiet, although is stobie-poll presence is significant (much greater than Fox, especially away from the main corridor which runs through the electorate: Lonsdale Highway). This is an electorate where Family First are likely to sweep up a fairly good percentage. The Hallett Cove area and the poorer suburbs south of Port Stanvac are significant contributors to the Southside congregation (a huge Assemblies of God church where Family First are rampant) and this may save Redford. Pollbludger, take a risk and call this as a ‘Liberal hold’.

  3. Nice Summary William.

    Ive been helping out Grace Portolesi’s (ALP) Hartley campaign, and so far ive been amazed how little has happened in the election campaign. To me it seems like each party machine is going through the motions centrally, making the campaign announcements, but there just seems hardly any intencity so far. Perhaps it will increase with the last few weeks, but so far its almost been boring..

    Id say the only interesting part of the elections will be the local campaigns. Of which I think hartley will be a very close one.

    Oh and if you come to hartley, u gotta see the billboard (crn Payneham Lower North east road) 🙂

    My Prediction for hartley is labor ahead on the night by about 1000, to be cut down to about 200 after the non polling booth vote (retirement homes/prepoll)

  4. Cameron, I normally get exasperated when people complain that an election campaign has been “boring” – I have never witnessed a campaign about which this was not said. But I’ve got to say, the SA campaign has definitely lacked something. Maybe it will liven up during the final fortnight. I was in Adelaide last week and drove all over the place, including through Hartley – I can’t say I noticed any billboards.

    Dave, I don’t think I’ll be taking you up on your challenge to call Bright for the Liberals. For one thing, Chloe’s a real looker (as is Grace Portolesi, at least in her campaign photos). Lest you think I’m being flippant, Andrew Leigh of the ANU is currently doing a study into the electoral effect of candidates’ attractiveness. But like I say in my post, I need a few more days of consideration before making up my mind and I will certainly consider the likely impact of a strong FFP vote in Bright.

  5. There may be a strong FFP vote in Bright, but where will those extra votes come from? If they were former Liberal voters, and all extra votes flow back to the Liberal Party, then the net effect after preferences is nil.

    For minor party preferences to have a real impact, it requires a party to draw from both sides and deliver most preferences one way, or to deliver preferences across the great political divide between Labor and Liberal.

    In 2002, Family First polled 2.9% of the vote in Bright and delivered 72.2% of them to the Liberal Party as prefences. In South Australia, registered how-to-vote cards are placed on voting screens, which means minor parties are better at delivering on preference deals.

    Family First contested 27 seats in 2002. In three seats, preferences were directed to the Labor Party. In those three seats, preferences flowed to Labor 63.8% (Elizabeth), 59.0% (Playford) and 53.7% (West Torrens). Labor was assisted by the donkey vote from FFP in Elizabeth. None of these seats was marginal.

    Taking into account preference directions, overall 66% of Family First preferences flowed as directed.

    Credit to Jenni Newton-Farrelly of the S.A. Parliamentary Library for compiling those preference counts from data at the Electoral Office.

  6. William, I’d be very interested to read the study Andrew Leigh is doing regarding the physical attraction of candidates and the corresponding relationship with votes. Will you be putting a link online when it appears?

    Now is Chloe Fox really that good looking? Compared to Angus Redford … perhaps! This phenomenon could perhaps be called the Kate Ellis Effect.

  7. As an FFP voter, who has always preferenced Labor candidates, I would like to kill the myth that all FFP voters are “converts” from the Liberal party. Many hold quite strongly to the social justice tennants of the left as reflected in socio economic policy. This is reenforced if anybody has bothered to inspect the spectra of FFP voters on the Bryan Palmers Politics Test. In fact in social and economic policy they are the only centrist party. The thing that distiguishes them from the others is their conservative stance on traditional family (largely faith based) values, which they hold with a passion.

    So this year I will be preferencing the Liberal candidate, for the first time in my 32 year voting life, as a protest against the dilution of marriage consequential to the Relationships Bill, in the hope that this will send a directed message to Labour in advance of the pending final vote on this bill. And there are many more like me. So don’t presume for one moment that an FFP vote will simply be “returned” to the Liberal party from whence it came.

  8. I wait to see how FFP go. Their vote at the Federal election in S.A. was the same as at the previous state election (taking account of non-contests in 2002), and their preferences were only slightly stronger to the Liberal Party. I for one don’t buy some of the mis-information that gets spread around by both supprters and opponents of Family First.

    And it is amazing how many wrong facts get reported about Family First. On Tuesday, the Australian reported the Party got as high as 14% in Queensland at the Federal election. I check. They got 6.4% in Groom, and under 4.5% in every other seat.

    For all the talk of a huge wave of support for Family First, Fred Nile and the Call to Australia in fact did considerably better at the 1981 and 1984 NSW elections. A vote of over 9% in 1981, twice what Family First achieved in the S.A. upper house in 2002.

    The real interest is which seats (if any) Family First choose to direct preferences to Labor. The 2002 South Australian election showed they can deliver 60% of preferences in seats where they direct preferences to Labor. In a seat like Light, a decision to direct preferences to Labor would guarantee a Labor victory. It will be interesting to examine the register of how-to-votes.

  9. I do not know where the notion that the Labor party is better for social justice etc comes from.

    For Example Beasley, whom labor proclaim as the “most decent” human to never led Australia, have so far launch a leadership challenge when Latham was in Hospital, he waited for his enemy to be weak to go for the kill. When his other enemy and former loyal deputy is under pressure from Beasley’s faction, Beasley show how “decent” he is by not protecting Simon Crean

    The facts are they are all politicians, and they will try and win vote however they can and morals have very little to do with it and you should be most weary with the ones who want to be nice.

    While I do not like Howard or the Liberal party much, us in the eastern states knows what the Labor party is really about, for example in NSW where the Labor has been in power for too long. We no longer have public transport/hospital/police/education system. This is disprite of NSW receiving record revenue.

    The reason being that in NSW we now have record public servant, not more police/doctors. Since Labor is 90% ex-union official, they employs more union member,k whose dues are re-contributed to the ALP’s coffers. So much for labor being the party who can deliver services/being better for the poor.

    Sorry SA, you will figure out what the labor party is about in 8 year

  10. Again with the misleading FFP propaganda. The Relationships Bill is not a “watering down” of marriage. All together now: marriage is federal law, the Relationships Bill is for SA law ONLY.

    If you had been paying attention, “left-wing FFP”, you should have preferenced the Libs at the last election as Labor clearly set out its plan to introduce this Bill in its 2002 policy platform.

    This apparent “groundswell” of so-called “left-wing” FF supporters seems pretty meek – Frances Bedford, FF Enemy #1, looks set to be returned with an increased margin in Florey.

  11. its quite clear “left wing FFP” is that ray guy that was crapping on about the exact same thing not two weeks ago… pretty sad making up a second name to try and prove something.

  12. It appears that there are enough rich middle aged men, whose careers would be destroyed if their illicit affairs became public, that are so angry at the way that Libs treated Brindal that they must just hand the seat to Labor

  13. It’s good to see the Family First preference history get a bit of scrutiny. Anthony Green suggests that the 2002 South Australian election showed they can deliver 60% of preferences in seats where they direct preferences to Labor.
    He points to the three seats (out of 27) where FFP preferences were directed to the ALP. In those safe ALP seats, preferences went to Labor 63.8% (Elizabeth), 59.0% (Playford) and 53.7% (West Torrens).
    Labor won the most “marginal” of those seats, West Torrens, with a 2PP vote of 58.6%.
    I suppose you have to be thankful for small mercies but delivering 53.7% (305) of the 568 FFP votes doesn’t demonstrate a particularly disciplined voting bloc at least not when it comes to voting Labor. Overall apparently 66% of FFP preferences flow as directed. This suggests FFP voters are ok with a bit of direction provided the direction is Vote Liberal.
    You could speculate that had the Libs been preferenced by FFP in West Torrens they would have got the 66% flow and Tom Koutsantonis would have seen his 2PP drop negligibly to 58.1%.
    Labor doesn’t need Family First. If FFP preference the ALP in marginals this time round it will be pure opportunism a case of them jumping on the winning bandwagon and attempting to take credit.
    Having tried to turn Fran Bedford’s re-election into a referendum on the Relationships Bill you would expect Andrew Evans to give the legislation speedy passage if the people return her. Well, no you wouldn’t.

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