Rann out, Weatherill in

ABC News 24 reports Mike Rann has announced he will stand down and hand the reins to Education Minister Jay Weatherill, who evidently has the numbers to easily defeat Rann in a party room vote. I’ll add an assessment of Rann’s electoral record shortly, but for now here’s a place for discussion of matters South Australian.

UPDATE: I’ve re-updated an earlier update after fleshing it out for inclusion in today’s Crikey email. It now reads as follows.

The spectacle of Australia’s longest-serving Premier announcing his retirement after a tap on the shoulder from a little-known union official has excited much comparison with Labor’s recent leadership shenanigans federally and in New South Wales. But from another perspective, Mike Rann’s premiership and the manner of its ending marks a significant departure from the party’s recent practice.

The arrival of the Rann government in March 2002 completed an ALP clean sweep of the nation’s six state governments, a process that began when Bob Carr came to office in New South Wales in 1995. His other counterparts at the time were Peter Beattie, Premier of Queensland since June 1998; Jim Bacon, who came to power in Tasmania the following September; Steve Bracks, Premier of Victoria since October 1999; and Geoff Gallop, elected in Western Australia a year before Rann.

By September 2007, all of these leaders had gone — and unlike Rann, not a single one had been pushed. Carr, Bracks and Beattie left entirely on their own terms in August 2005, July 2007 and September 2007 respectively; Gallop resigned in January 2006 after announcing he was struggling with depression; and Bacon quit the previous June due to a battle with lung cancer, which would claim his life three months later.

By very stark contrast, Rann has lingered well beyond his use-by date, and while the particular manner of his execution might be questioned, it seems a little unfair to tar its architects with the brush of Sussex Street. Rann has led the state for 9½ years and the party for nearly 17, and despite strong performances in 1997 (when Labor nearly returned to power one term after the 1993 massacre) and 2006 (when his government was handsomely re-elected after a successful first term), not even the most charitable assessment of his electoral record can argue that he deserved more time.

The chart below benchmarks Rann against other mainland Labor state governments by plotting their two-party election results against their length of time in office. This shows four of the five with remarkably similar trajectories for their first terms, before South Australia breaks away with a much sharper decline going into the subsequent election (Western Australia, of course, is an even odder man out; more on that shortly).

However, a mitigating circumstance becomes apparent if we work off real time rather than each government’s year-zero. The chart below suggests either that the election of the Rudd government in November 2007 was a watershed event (the occasion of which is crudely marked by the vertical line), or that it happened to coincide with an acceleration in the various state governments’ natural rates of decay

While it may immediately appear that a general decline is already evident in 2007, this is partly because sharp downward trajectories for Western Australia and South Australia are locked in by the post-Rudd elections of 2008 and 2010. It is true that the Queensland, Victorian and NSW governments were already heading south on the back of their September 2006, November 2006 and March 2007 results, but in each case the tempo quickened after November 2007 (calamitously so in the case of New South Wales).

The point is further emphasised by the fact that the “newer” governments of Western Australia and South Australia are the two that record premature declines in the first chart, as the federal anchor was weighing them down earlier in the piece. Rann can thus claim some sort of an alibi for falling short of his counterparts in the three biggest states.

However, it’s instructive to compare Rann’s trajectory with that of Geoff Gallop and Alan Carpenter, ignoring the temptation to regard WA as an exceptional case. Gallop’s government came to office on the back of the highest two-party vote of any of the five incoming governments under observation, but it uniquely flatlined when first up for re-election in 2005. A distorting factor here was the free kick Labor had received from One Nation preferences in 2001: Gallop did receive a fillip in 2005 on the primary vote, which was up from 37.3% to 41.9% (the only time WA Labor has topped 40% at a state or federal election since 1987). Nonetheless, the 2005 result undeniably stands out from the crowd, the conventional explanation for which is a creeping conservatism that has also seen Western Australia weaken for Labor federally.

That being so, it is notable that Rann’s result in 2010 was hardly better than what Alan Carpenter managed on far less friendly electoral turf for Labor in 2008, notwithstanding that Rann’s government did actually cling to office. This might have something to do with the fact that the WA Liberals had changed leaders on the eve of their campaign, or with the decline in federal Labor’s fortunes in the 16 months that separated the two elections. However, there seems equally strong grounds to blame Labor’s leadership issues in South Australia — namely the encumbrance of the Michelle Chantelois episode, and well-founded scepticism as to whether Rann would see out the ensuing term.

Recent polling strengthens the argument that Rann has become a heavier weight for Labor than he has had a right to be. Not only has he recorded consistently big deficits against Liberal leader Isobel Redmond as preferred premier, he also trailed Jay Weatherill by 40% to 27% in a recent poll conducted by The Sunday Mail. Notwithstanding the bad reputation that leadership changes have acquired of late, Labor’s caucus and factional bigwigs were entitled to conclude that Rann’s extended victory lap had become an indulgence the government could no longer afford.

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.

113 comments on “Rann out, Weatherill in”

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  1. [Well that was quick.

    17 years as the leader of a political party is an excellent run

    He said he wanted to ensure a seamless transition …]
    I doubt another another Australian politician will last 17 years as leader.

  2. 17 years is an excellent run.

    Keep in mind when he took over the leadership, the SA ALP were in the same position the NSW ALP are in now and lead them into government.

  3. [Does anyone know if a specific handover date has been agreed to?]
    The statement Rann put out says he will stay on until the Olympic Dam expansion is settled, which isn’t expected to happen until early next year.

  4. I have no idea of the political scene in SA

    But, given the longevity of Rann Labor – and the way governments of any persuasion always seem to run out of steam or pick up a load of hubris as if history is no guide – then I would have thought that Labor would be out at the next election anyway.

    Or hasn’t Labor been in power in SA for very long?

  5. [Keep in mind when he took over the leadership, the SA ALP were in the same position the NSW ALP are in now and lead them into government.]
    And not just that, but he got a bigger swing to him at the 1997 election than the swing away from Labor at the 1993 election. An astonishing result after just 1 term.

  6. Well, time for the MSM to brush-off and recycle their 2010 headlines:

    “Rann Knifed in The Back by Faceless Factional Bosses!”

    “Blood On Hands of Backroom Party Hacks”

  7. Misfit

    The SA ALP are probably out of steam right now, but Weatherill is definitely an opportunity to rejuvenate the party. We’ll have to wait and see.

    On top of that, Redmond is pretty much non existent in the political debate and the SA Liberal Party are a factional mess.

  8. Misfit, the government has been in power since 2002, but its electoral decline is not entirely longevity-related: all the state Labor governments have hit the wall since the they came to power federally.

  9. [Many Thanks.

    What say you about the Rann’s level of Lame-duckery until then?]
    Oh yeah iRann had no chance of winning the next election, and the idiotic redistribution rules makes it hard for the government to win again.

    But I think Weatherill has as good a chance of any, especially if Redmond remains as the opposition leader, because she is hopeless.

  10. spur212
    I thought Redmond did extremely well last election.
    As I said, I don’t know much about SA politics but I thought I read that.
    Why would she be on the nose so soon after a close election?

  11. William

    Are you saying that, historically, whoever is in power federally is not in power state(ly)?

    That has not always been the case, has it? Or is there a little overlap and eventually all the states go the opposite to the feds?

    My limited political history suggests that it was only when Howard came to power that that sort of shift happened. Happy to get your stats

  12. [spur212
    I thought Redmond did extremely well last election.]
    This claim is laughable. All the polls were saying that AT BEST Labor could hope for was a hung parliament and minority government, yet they retained a majority.

    The Liberals should’ve won that election but they failed because they had swapped leaders too many times during the previous term.

  13. Misfit

    Considering that the predicted election result was a hung parliament and a possible Liberal victory, Redmond did a pretty poor job. The Liberals only won 4 seats at the last election and one of them was off a National (who had aligned herself with the ALP).

    I think the SA ALP has been on the nose since just before the Chantelois business.

  14. SO

    Don’t forget Chapman and the Shadow Treasurer in the last week of the campaign. They didn’t want to win.

  15. shows on

    I didn’t me that I personally thought that about Redmond
    I read that about her,
    Then again, it was probably from a Limited News outlet given that’s the only source of information from SA. 🙂

  16. [all the state Labor governments have hit the wall since the they came to power federally.]

    I first experienced this interesting phenomenon of Aussies voters having two bob each way when Neville Wran became premier (albiet in a knife-edger) only 6 months after Fraser became PM by the largest margin in Australian History (55 seats).

    After Abbott becomes PM, Labor will have a good shot at regaining government in Victoria for instance.

    All the same, it’s likely to be quite a spell before O’Farrell is turfed out.

  17. spurs

    oh, so it wasn’t a close election.
    wonder why i thought it was

    whoosh – i better get outta here and back to where i can wax lyrical and make mistakes and prove miscellaneous points with dodgy links.

  18. [Redmond did very little in the last campaign. She just shut up and rode the Chanto wave.]
    Redmond was simply a compromise candidate because the factions couldn’t decide between MHS and Chapman. Redmond was a candidate of last resort, and has performed as one would expect for such a candidate.

    Now it is quite likely based on the last election that the moderates have been significantly strengthened and could install Chapman in a leadership ballot, especially if Weatherill starts polling well.

    So I think it will be Weatherill V Chapman at the next election

  19. From BK on the main thread:


    Posted Sunday, July 31, 2011 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    SA Opposition treasurer Iain Evans says the Government is not allowing the public to vote out Mr Rann.

    “This is not a decision of the taxpayer, this is not a decision of the voters; this is a decision of the Labor Party factions, the voters have been totally excluded from this decision,” he said.

    Now where would Evans have got that stupid idea from?

  20. LOL

    I wonder what Iain Evans thought about the business regarding John Olsen replacing Dean Brown as leader … don’t go there!

  21. 27

    The Victorian Liberals once has such a compromise candidate who was predicted not to last 3 months as Liberal Leader. The year was 1955 and his name was Henry Bolte! He was Premier for 17 years.

  22. GG

    You disagreed with me when I said Rann would go before the next election. You grew rather churlish when asked to commit.

    Fortunately Augustus was not so reticent and is hanging out for Craig T to win a libel action.

  23. GG

    You were much too clever to take the bet/ bait. I thought I deserved a moral victory.

    Although I must say I’m at a dinner with 20 people and not a single one commented on Rann resigning. They are talking about cats versus dogs.

  24. [Lincoln was a compromise candidate as well and is considered the greatest President ever.]
    What? You just drew an allusion between Abraham Lincoln and Isobel Redmond!

    I think FDR was a better presidnet, the Civil War was tough, but the Great Depression and WWII were worse.

  25. THe Oz
    [A stoush over who would announce a planned dam expansion has led to the public rolling of a premier ]
    “dam expansion”? Whoever wrote this headline doesn’t seem to understand that Olympic dam is potentially the world’s biggest mine.

  26. Frank da Calabrese

    The headline should have read Mike “Kiwi Sheep Shagger” Rann walks the plank. Sheesh he gotta be way beter than that other Kiwi gift to Australia one Joh Bjelke Petersen ?

  27. [Lincoln was a compromise candidate as well and is considered the greatest President ever.]

    Not in any of the former states of the Confederacy. They’ve maintained the rage for 150 years now. 😉

  28. Diogs,

    “You were much too clever to take the bet/ bait. I thought I deserved a moral victory”.

    Says everything about your morality.

  29. Atticus

    Lincoln didn’t even bother to run in the southern states.


    Lincoln, FDR and Washington are always the top three. All great, great men.

  30. ShowsOn

    [“dam expansion”? Whoever wrote this headline doesn’t seem to understand that Olympic dam is potentially the world’s biggest mine.]

    It will be the world’s second biggest mine. I have seen the numbers and they are truly mind boggling. This from BHP’s proposal 4 years ago. The cost of diesel to get to the start of mining = $3 billion dollars. The amount of vehicles = Two years production of Caterpillar. The daily removal of overburden PER DAY over 3.5 years 1,000,000 tons. Value of ore as at 2005 $1,150,000,000,000. Yep we are talking trillions of dollars. The biggest belongs to them pesky Russians which valued their ore at the time at about 1.5 Trillion dollars. Davai !

  31. [SO

    Lincoln, FDR and Washington are always the top three. All great, great men.]
    Isobel Redmond shouldn’t be mentioned in the same sentence as them, and that isn’t because she isn’t a man!

  32. Good evening, fellow Bludgers. 🙂

    Well, the news it not surprising, really.

    Just got off the phone from my caucus contact. The Left/Right deal on the leadership has come about for 2 specific reasons:

    1) the Right’s preferred candidate, Jack Snelling, isn’t ready and won’t be for a number of years. It suits them to have someone carry the can for him until he is. It also suits them for this person to be from another faction (hence not wanting it to be Deputy Leader John Rau, also from the Right). Also, Rau’s age is starting to mitigate against him slightly, especially if we are looking at “x” years into the future for him to take the leadership.

    2) part of the deal was to deliver 2 Left/Unaligned seats to the Right, these being Elder (currently held by the Left’s Pat Conlon) and Rann’s seat of Ramsay. The latter is certainly a surprise, because conventional wisdom had it given to either senior staffer Matt Pinnegar or State Secretary Kyam Maher, both from the Left.

    I gather from talking with my contact that this decision had been some time in the making.

    Also, much discussion has been around the timing of Rann’s departure. He has said in his statement that he wants to bed down a number of major projects first, but it is also well known that he has always wanted to hang around until mid 2012 in order to capture the “record” of the longest-serving Labor Premier (and, I believe, second overall to Tom Playford). My contact is not alone in believing Rann things he can string out his “resignation” until he has attained said record, thereby ensuring he left when he wanted to anyway.

    One thing is obvious; this is certainly a circuit-breaker for SA Labor, but it will be interesting to see if this is reflected in the polling figures.

  33. [Lincoln, FDR and Washington are always the top three. All great, great men.]


    Spot on.

    Teddy Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson are frequently rated among the “Immortals” as per the carvings of their faces on Mt Rushmore (famous setting for climax of “North By Northwest). FDR was not President when Mr. Rushmore project began and still in office when construction ceased.

  34. Atticus

    That was back in the days when the Republican Party had great leaders; Lincoln and Teddy are my two favorite presidents.

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