South Australian election guide: March 15

Introducing the Poll Bludger’s comprehensive seat-by-seat guide to South Australia’s March 15 state election.

The Poll Bludger’s guide to the South Australian state election is open for business, offering comprehensive overviews of each of the state’s 47 lower house electoral districts including, in most cases, booth result maps (with an upper house guide to follow when I can find time). Labor goes into the election with 26 seats against 18 for the Liberals, with three independents. The numbers are unchanged from the 2010 election, there having been no party resignations or defeats for incumbent parties at by-elections.

Labor did remarkably well to secure the above score line at the 2010 election, given that they were outpolled 51.6-48.4 on two-party preferred. The margins listed on the election guide entry page tell the story, with Labor holding 11 of their 26 seats by 5% or less compared with only three for the Liberals, and the Liberals holding five seats on margins equal to or greater than Labor’s safest seat. This may point to a difficulty for a one-vote one-value regime in delivering balanced party representation when conservative support is strongly concentrated outside the city, Labor’s only substantial basis of support outside Adelaide being in the declining “iron triangle” cities. Of these, only Whyalla continues to furnish Labor with a reliable seat in Giles, with Port Augusta and Port Pirie respectively subsumed in the conservative seats of Stuart and Frome. By contrast, Adelaide is home to swathe of marginal seats which appear, on the basis of the 2010 result, to have a slight natural lean to Labor.

A provision in the state’s constitution requiring that an effort be made to achieve “electoral fairness” has for most of the past two decades resulted in redistributions after each election which have specifically aimed to even up any biases, the target being to guarantee victory to the party that exceeds 50% in the event of a uniform swing. That assumption was seriously confounded by the 2010 result, at which the only two swings to Labor in the whole state happened to be in their two most marginal seats (Light and Mawson, at Adelaide’s northern top and southern tail). Elsewhere, a combined 9.4% swing in Adelaide deflated Labor margins in a brace of seats where blowouts had occurred in their favour in 2010, but only Adelaide, Morialta and Norwood switched to the Liberal column (Norwood, its name now changed to Dunstan, was won from Labor by none other than Steven Marshall, who took less than three years to rise from marginal seat challenger to Opposition Leader).

As I wrote in Crikey last week, this caused the boundaries commissioners to put the uniform swing objective into the too-hard basket, and they proceeded with an unambitious redistribution that contented itself with clipping Labor’s wings in marginal seats where the opportunity presented itself. Consequently, a Liberal Party that starts from a 2010 election base of 51.6% needs to gain still more to win office, so long as the uniform swing assumption holds. Three pieces of low-hanging fruit are available in the form of Hartley (0.1%), Bright (0.5%) and Ashford (0.6%), but beyond that point the Liberals run into the problem of the three independents, all from naturally conservative seats – Don Pegler in Mount Gambier, which was last held by Labor in 1975; Geoff Brock in Frome, where Labor’s base of support in Port Pirie is more outweighed by surrounding country territory; and the naturally conservative seat of Fisher in foothills suburbs in southern Adelaide, which former Liberal MP Bob Such has held as an independent since quitting the party in 2000.

The Liberals have talked up their chances in all three, but Bob Such in particular will surely be very hard to shake loose, having won by 16.6% in 2010. However, a trend against independents around the country over recent years suggests Geoff Brock can take nothing for granted in Frome, which he won narrowly at a by-election in 2009 and retained by 7.5% at the general election the following year. Mount Gambier is hard to predict, as sitting member Don Pegler won by a hair’s breadth in 2010 upon the retirement of another independent, Rory McEwen. Independents generally perform well after they have had a term to entrench themselves, but a mood for majority government might make this time an exception. There appears an outside prospect of independents poaching metropolitan seats from Labor in Lee, where popular local mayor Gary Johanson is targeting a seat where the Labor member is retiring, and Mitchell, where Labor-turned-independent MP Kris Hanna is trying again after retaining the seat as an independent in 2006, then falling short in 2010. There are no major independent threats in Liberal seats that I am aware of; the Nationals lost their only seat to the Liberals in 2010, and do not seem likely to make a comeback this time.

Should Pegler, Brock and Such remain where they are, that leaves the Liberals needing another three seats if they are to go all the way, which the pendulum suggests is likely if they achieve a swing of 3%. That doesn’t seem a particularly high mountain to climb for an opposition facing a 12-year-old government, but it requires a two-party preferred win of beyond 54-46, which is not something the polls have been crediting them with with any consistency. Failing that though, as the 2010 result makes clear, it’s by no means impossible that a smaller swing can give them what they need provided it’s fortuitously distributed.

If one South Australian election guide isn’t enough for you, Ben Raue’s typically thorough effort is available here, and I gather Antony Green’s should be along any day now.

UPDATE (31/1): A fairly comprehensive update to my entry for the seat of Napier will shortly be required following gobsmacking developments, in which a) member Michael O’Brien announced he would make way in the seat for Don Farrell, the principal powerbroker of his Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association faction and a soon-to-be former Senator and powerbroker, b) Jay Weatherill threatened in an ABC Radio to quit politics if this proceeded, invoking Farrell’s involvement in the 2010 coup against Kevin Rudd and agreeing voters might perceive a possibility that Farrell would move against him after the election, and and c) Farrell backed down and announced he would make no further efforts to pursue a career in politics when his Senate term expires in the middle of the year.

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.

94 comments on “South Australian election guide: March 15”

  1. Carey

    Thanks for the answers. Still, this was surely one of the dumbest days in SAa politis for some time.

    After helping create the circumstances that led to Tony Abbott becoming PM, and probably now Steve Marshall as Premier, Don Farrell can deservedly be considered for life membership of the Liberal Party now. Hs any other person in SA political history done more to get the Liberals into office?

    At this point the Liberal attack ads almost write themselves.

  2. Socrates @51

    I doubt that the Liberals will mention it in their ads. It is old news already.

    It will be forgotten by tomorrow. Today was little more than a nothing-more-to-see day.

  3. Unitary State

    Yes, if the polls now move towards the Liberals after Weatherall had been closing the gap since late last year, I am sure this farce will have nothing to do with it. Farrell is a blameless, unselfish, angelic genius.

    As they say in politics, “Disunity is a sure path to reelection”

  4. US

    For your information, about Liberal attentions:
    [The Liberal Party was quick to seize on the infighting, tweeting a photo of Mr Weatherill in front of Senator Farrell with Mr Rudd, Ms Gillard and former premier Mike Rann in the background – and the caption “who’s next?”]

  5. Socrates, well said.

    All that I could think to myself today is “If we re-elect Jay Weatherill as Premier in March, who will be Premier in 2018?” – a sentiment the Libs are definitely going to seize upon.

  6. Carey

    At this point, it is hard to imagine anyone outside of Farrell’s own office staff who would pretend otherwise.

    Jokes aside, this was always going to be a hard election to win for Labor. After the hamfisted handling of the Holden decision by Abbott and Weatherall’s positivity I thought Jay might have a chance. But after this, only Vicky Chapman can win it for Labor. Someone should ask Vicky what she thinks of loyalty to party leaders?

  7. Carey

    [I’d say the seat will be comfortably retained by Labor, regardless of who the candidate is.]

    Farrell could have lost it with his proven vote-pulling power. đź‘ż

  8. Socrates @56

    Don’t worry Socrates. very soon Vicky will spew up the dumbest line of the year for sure. As she always does.

  9. US

    [Don’t worry Socrates. very soon Vicky will spew up the dumbest line of the year for sure. As she always does.]

    But will their shadow Treasurer admit his figures are just spin like he did just before the last election.

  10. [But will their shadow Treasurer admit his figures are just spin like he did just before the last election.]

    A bit off topic but the Shadow Treasurer, Iain Evans, is the one who scares me most about the Libs getting into power. The rest, including Marshall, are harmless but Evans is a factionally driven ideologue in a similar mould to Olsen. I worry about what he’d do with the public purse, as well as what plotting he’d be up to…

  11. Honestly, post election, the “fairness criteria” for electoral redistributions needs to be scrapped. It is a complete joke.

  12. [Honestly, post election, the “fairness criteria” for electoral redistributions needs to be scrapped. It is a complete joke.]

    It can only be removed by referendum but I agree, it is a ridiculous system of gerrymandering that rarely seems to actually achieve what it aspires to and punishes marginal MPs for being popular amongst their electors.

    Ideally, I’d say either scrap it or go all the way with proportional representation.

  13. If High-speed rail was to run to Adelaide, where would you prefer the station was located at?

    A) Victoria Square
    B) North Terrace railway station area
    C) far Northern fringes of Adelaide

  14. Carey Moore @65

    I can see the merits of proportional representation against the westminster single-member electorates; but I normally disagree on it for national elections as single-member electorates ensure that at least 80% of the time there is single-party government, the key to political stability.

    In any case, if we were to scrap the states one day, we would have regions/provinces/cantons (whatever they will be called) that vary vastly in population unlike most other unitary states. for instance, Sydney or Melbourne have populations approaching 5 million, but a province for Cairns would house under 200 thousand people. It is hard to see how proportional representation would work well under such a method for national elections.

  15. Well, if SA ever were to go for proportional representation, I personally endorse a 7×7 Hare-Clark type system.

    I wouldn’t support a single statewide PR system, unless it was mixed with single member, like in NZ.

  16. Well, I do remember for a fact Labor had a policy a few years ago of getting rid of the upper house in SA. I do hope they revisit it if they happen to be re-elected. As Paul Keating himself used to say, it is unrepresentative swill.

  17. As for the High Speed Rail question earlier, I believe that all interstate rail goes to Keswick at the moment, so I imagine it’d hypothetically go there. However, I imagine if HSR ever reached Adelaide, it’d be a while away and I’d hope Adelaide’s transport layout is quite different by then…

  18. Carey Moore@70

    well If the proposed under-the-city subway was built, most lines along the Nth Terrace area would be made redundant and make more space for parkland. The number of suburban rail lines would be cut from 5 to 2 – a simple eastern line and a simple western line.

    The line would hypothetically bend right underground after the Mile End station, then have a station at Victoria Square and a few streets later make a U-turn to connect with the Adelaide station along Nth terrace.

  19. US

    High speed rail will never be economically viable to Adelaide in our life time. It is not viable from Sydney to Melbourne. It would cost billions. We haven’t even finished electrifying the suburban train lines we already have.

    The proposed city rail loop is a long term planning option. It might be needed in thirty years. In fact, there are light rail systems in the world that carry more people than our entire PT system (e.g. Strasbourg, Docklands) so even then, I think we would be better off with a tram loop for a fraction of the cost. Again, the cost would be billions, which we do not have.

  20. [As for the High Speed Rail question earlier, I believe that all interstate rail goes to Keswick at the moment, so I imagine it’d hypothetically go there. However, I imagine if HSR ever reached Adelaide, it’d be a while away and I’d hope Adelaide’s transport layout is quite different by then…]
    HSR requires a completely different standard of track and infrastructure. The tunnel through the hills is too low for starters. All the interstate rail track built for freight would need to be replaced, including all switches, electric power, new track capacity at the Melbourne end (where? No land is available), sorry, HSR to Adelaide is like wishing for honest debate from Andrew Bolt. It will never happen.

  21. The Tiser is having a field day on ‘Labor disunity’. Can’t vouch for their accuracy though. Their hotshot political writers think Don Farrell lives at Mitcham!

    Labor has had two leaders since its 1993 electoral debacle (Rann and Weatherill). The Libs have had Brown, Olsen, Kerin, Evans, Hamilton Smith, Redmond, Marshall. Have I missed someone?

  22. Socrates @71

    Well, the railway line from Broken Hill to Sydney can mostly be converted to HSR if you ask me. It is a shame to know it won’t happen in our lifetime as HSR from Adelaide to Sydney would completely reinvigorate places such as Broken Hill which are on the verge of being wiped of the map in 10 years or so.

  23. Unitary State@64

    Honestly, post election, the “fairness criteria” for electoral redistributions needs to be scrapped. It is a complete joke.

    My impression from afar is the same – that the concept is naive, unworkable and potentially unfair and should be scrapped.

  24. US

    HSR costs at least $20 milion per km to build as a system cost, and is built between cities with populations in the millions. From Adelaide to Broken Hill is over 500km, so over $10 billion to build HSR not counting the cost of a land corridor. Broken Hill has a population of 18,000, equating to about $600,000 per resident to build HSR. Also meaning it would be cheaper to buy every resident of Broken Hill a house on the coast instead of HSR. Sorry it will never happen to Broken Hill in anyone’s lifetime. Maybe Adelaide to Melbourne HSR in 50 years time, when we have run out of oil.

  25. TT 74

    Your point about leadership stability in SA is valid – the Libs have been far worse than Labor, not even counting those like Chapman who would like to try. Nevertheless, as I said on friday, conservative forces will use the Farrell gambit against Labor, and it is at best an unnecessary distraction.

    Incidentally, as much as I criticise Farrell, O’Brien also deserves blame. The seat is not his to “give” to a mate. If he was going to retire, he should have said so earlier than six weeks out, in time for a proper preselection.

  26. The problem for the ALP in regards to all the factional stuff is people saw what happened federally which is much louder than what’s happened with the Liberals in this state which has been out of view for around a year or so.

    Of course if Marshall wins (it’s still an if at this point purely because it’s very difficult to win elections in this state from opposition) you can assume all the Liberals factional stuff will come to a head pretty quickly after a brief honeymoon period. It’s sort of a lose/lose for voters in this state. It’s like both parties are saying “screw giving value to voters, just focus on the other side’s internal stuff.” This is what turns people off public affairs.

  27. Can I just ask: Where the hell have the Libs been? I’ve barely heard a word from them. I mean I know that if the other side is shooting themselves in the foot, you don’t get in the way but the SA ALP are notorious for being able to bounce back from this stuff. I’d be all over the media, putting the foot on Labor – finishing them off. I don’t even mean go negative. They could be out there saying “While Labor are fighting themselves, we’re ready to fight for you by (insert policy)!”

    Bloody hopeless! (Unless they are paranoid that the more they speak, the more likely they are to screw it up – which is a fair concern I guess.)

  28. Interesting Dave Garland has put his hand up for Napier.

    For those form outside SA who are unsure of what Napier is like demographically – bit like in Sydney mainly Cabramatta (without the multicultural influence) with a bit of Blue Mountains thrown in; or in Melbourne a bit like Werribee with a bit of Trentham thrown in.

    Dave Garland is a long time ALP member and though unaligned himself he has strong connections to the Left. He is also, unusually for the ALP, a resident of the electorate.

    He is an outstanding candidate and ticks all the boxes apart from the fact the Right will have none of it.

    His comments when nominating are aimed to let the Right know if he fails to get pre-selection by a factional deal that it will look as if a genuine local Labor boy is knocked off by someone parachuted in by the nasty ALP Right…a perfect set up for an Independent Labor win.

    You read it here first!

  29. I saw Liberal attack adds tonight linking Farrell’s unsuccessful tilt with Labor leadership turmoil. I agree that the Liberal leadrship is at least as unstable, with Chapman or others likely to challenge the second Mrshall makes his first slip. But that is not what the voters will hear. They are hearing about Labor leadership turmoil. As I said, Farrell’s crazily timed stunt is at best a distraction, at worst damaging to Labor.

    As for those who said it would be quickly forgotten… Dream on. In a state where the Advertiser is the only metro newspaper, with no Fairfax press, what did Farrell expect? Adulation?

  30. [I saw Liberal attack adds tonight linking Farrell’s unsuccessful tilt with Labor leadership turmoil.]
    What about the 5AA advert with the new breakfast team Penberthy, Jane Reily and Mark Aiston?

    In that advert Penerthy cites the Adelaide Oval upgrade as an example of “all South Australians coming together”. Well what about the Liberal party of Australia – S.A. Division that opposed it every step of the way including during the 2010 election campaign?

  31. I saw the Liberal attack ads. You can pretty much guess the formula. It’s the same formula ad that the Libs have been running since time immemorial. The black background with black and white photos and headlines, and splashes of red, with the voice actor who does the blokey bogan voice growling about “Labor turmoil” etc.

    Oh well, it’s effective, so why change?

  32. Also, one thing I’ve noticed about the ad is the line about “while the state loses jobs, they only care about theirs”. While, on the surface, it looks just like an attack on their priorities, it actually is a sneaky way of implying that the two are actually linked. Therefore, if the ad sinks in, all job losses will be seen as Labor’s fault (including the Olympic Dam related ones and those caused by the Abbott Government’s cuts.)

  33. Right candidate Jon Gee was chosen by Labor’s State Executive yesterday as the party’s candidate for Napier.

    Gee, 54, is the secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union’s vehicle division. ‘The Advertiser’ reports that the married father of three adult children was a key figure in negotiations for a new pay deal for Holden workers, lives in Craigmore (in Napier) and drives a Commodore.

  34. Jon Gee seems a good fit for Napier. He’s from the Right but not, it seems, the core Right of his predecessor, Michael O’Brien.

    The other announced candidate for Napier, factionally unaligned Dave Garland of the National Union of Workers, would have been a great choice IMHO.

  35. The Liberal attack ads on Don Farrell won’t hold any weight. Farrell withdrew his nomination and it is old news. By election day everyone will forget about it.

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