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. @Diogenes
    That’s good to know but my point remains the thought bubble inconsistency of what the state AGs want to pursue. It’s all about grabbing some media. You can’t get body piercings at a public hospital either, and infant circumcision for “social” reasons is still allowed without infant concent privately.

    @To speak of pebbles, I don’t know if SA could make history. I wonder if Marriage is a state perogative under our constitution. Certainly the commonwealth could argue that they capture it because it is something we engage in international treaties about (mutual recognition).

    Re 2PP: 2PP is not part of the electoral system, only part of election night counting to get an announcable result on the night. It is wrong on some occassions because it presumes that only Labor or Liberal can win a seat (or that only the past 2 tops in that electorate can).

    What we do have uniquely in SA, as a result of an even earlier election where the parliamentary outcome disagreed with the 2PP vote, is that after each election the electoral commision attempts to redistribute the boundaries so that each electorate has 50/50 of the two party preferred voters’ leanings.

    What the latest election showed was this approach does not solve the problem of a seriously low fidelity electoral system that regularly throws away the concerns of 20% of the population and presumes that the only way you could have a common concern with another voter is if you live next door. The 2PP preferred redistributions was put in place by the two big old parties to maintain their cartel over being elected when proper proportional electoral systems such as multi-member local region electorates allow for all kinds of common concerns including local issue concerns. If you add Robson rotation, it allows voters to thow out a Labor politician in favour of another Labor politician or anyone else. Voters are no longer hamstrung by the ticket order provided by the party factions.

    We need a real high fidelity electoral system in SA (Fedelity = correlation of who is elected, compared to whole of state spread of votes). This may be the only way for Labor to survive.

  2. The suppressed report on the former Burnside Council’s shenanigans should have little relevance to the debate on Weatherill’s taking the reins from Rann. Ministerial competence is certainly an issue here, but there’s absolutely no suggestion of corruption involving the State Government. Interest in the report waned when every member of the former disfunctional council either did not contest the last council election or was defeated at the polls.

    Mining at Arkaroola is now off the agenda, agreed. This is a pity IMHO. Arkaroola has been mined over 150 years. There’s a lot of invaluable ore there. Modern methods could extract the ore with minimal damage to the environment and to the great advantage of South Australia. We are all the losers.

  3. Rann has shown leadership in this whole saga. It was very poorly executed by whoever leaked it. Giving the talking point of faction thugs knifing a leader.

    This is a smooth transition of power, not an overnight leadership coup. While there are many problems with the SA ALP a lot of the current pain that Labor is feeling IS because of Rann and polling backs this up.

    While the media and Liberal hacks have all had the opinion sent to them to copy and paste that this is evil union thugs knifing a popular leader, nothing could be further from the truth.

  4. Carey Moore,
    You might call it a smooth transition, I call it a stuff up! Rann should’ve gone today, and if Wheatherill needs to walk around with “L plates” on why does he deserve the job? Perhaps he should grow a spine balls or both.

  5. So Rann has announced that, after stepping down as premier, he’ll likely quit parliament some time next year. Has no idea what he is going to do, post-politics. Really, that’s standard for an outgoing, long serving premier.

    As for the subsequent by-election. The Salisbury-based seat of Ramsay is the safest Labor seat in the state parliament. As there aren’t really any notable independents based in that area who might pull an upset, it’ll likely be a Labor retain.

  6. [As there aren’t really any notable independents based in that area who might pull an upset, it’ll likely be a Labor retain.]

    Sorry CM, but I’ll bet you $100 one will poll at least 20%. I won’t bet on a win cos it depends on what the Liberals do, and they are likely to spoil an indy winning.

    It will also be interesting to see if Mr Foley goes at the same time. His colleagues want him gone, some have not spoken to him for months even in a cursory fashion.

  7. Undoubtedly. There’s always a backlash against the party in government at a by-election and, in safe seats, that usually favours an independent. It’s still probable that it will be a Labor retain.

  8. Someone told me that they heard on the Leon Byner show that Port Adelaide Mayor Gary Johansen confirmed he would he run if there was a by-election in Foley’s seat of Port Adelaide.
    I also heard that local ALP people are glad to see the end of Foley but think they will lose the seat now anyway.

  9. I’d say there is a decent chance for Port Adelaide to go indie in a by-election. There is a lot of resentment against Foley and the Labor government in that seat. Whether or not it’s enough to overcome Labor’s strength in that seat will depend, really, on how well Weatherill governs in the first few months and how well received he is, as well as the quality of candidate and campaign the ALP run in P.A. and whether or not the Liberals will bother with a candidate.

  10. From GhostWhoVotes:

    [#Advertiser Poll SA 2 Party Preferred: ALP 46 (+4) LIB 54 (-4) #saparli #auspol]

    [#Advertiser Poll SA Primary Votes: ALP 32 (+7) LIB 44 (-5) #saparli #auspol]

    Rann exit bump?

  11. The Poll is clearly showing that the ALP Government despite its long list of well known shortcomings, is not in the territory of the recently departed NSW ALP Government where the population was saying “anyone but this mob”.

    In SA, it appears the ALP are clawing back voters with “it’s better the devil you know”. The Liberals small target theme is now failing them, and their leader ‘Invisobel Redmond’ is rumored to be facing a challenge by Christmas.

    As bad as the ALP are, I can’t blame people for not voting Liberal as no one knows what the Liberal Party are going to do if in government, not the least of whom are the Liberal Party themselves.

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