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”

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  1. I make the bold prediction here and now that 2014 will be very much like 2010: the swings will be all over the place.

    Labor will retain seats it expected to lose and lose seats it expected to retain.

    But don’t be surprised to see the Weatherill Government re-elected …

  2. Danny

    There is so much apathy about this election that anything could happen. No-one feels strongly about either leader (they are basically interchangeable from the little I have seen of them) and I really don’t think it matters much to SA who wins.

  3. Interesting to read reports (admittedly from News Limited, so who knows how true they are) that Don Farrell is being parachuted into Napier for the coming election.

    There is a very good reason they would put him in Napier; he can’t represent the area he lives in because it is blue ribbon Liberal and the chances of Labor ever winning it are Buckley’s and none.

    You see, he lives in Burnside. Waterfall Gully Road, Burnside, to be precise. Some of the most expensive real estate in Adelaide, for the benefit of those outside South Australia who wouldn’t know these things. Fancy a union official living in a million dollar mansion, eh?

    On the other hand, the seat he has been picked to stand for, Napier, houses some of the poorest people and has some of the most significant generational social problems in the state. It will additionally have been very hard hit by the closure of Holden, as many of the people who are or were employed either work for Holden or for one of the local car component manufacturers who rely on their custom.

    But never mind; I’m sure he’ll have no problems fitting in. After all, the incumbent, Michael O’Brien, lives in Springfield, which isn’t that much further down the “wealth” ladder than Burnside.

    At least Annette Hurley and Terry Hemmings (previous members) lived and worked in the electorate prior to their preselection; they were very much “of” the area and the constituents would have known this.

    The Labor Party seems to be labouring (pardon the pun) under the delusion that it’s perfectly okay to parachute any person into a safe Labor seat and people won’t give a shite whether or not that person is a local or whether they could be adequately represented by someone who doesn’t understand or can’t relate to their issues.

    That may be right for this seat for the moment (as the electorate would never elect a Liberal unless the boundaries change dramatically) but I suspect the day will come when Labor will get a rude awakening from a strong local Independent. If and when that day happens, that Independent will pretty much have a career for life.

  4. Jay is taking on the dominant Right which put him where he is. This signals the end of the Machine – the Right-Left alliance – and the end of 12 years of Labor government in SA.

    A new, refreshed Labor Party will arise from the ashes.

  5. BTW Danny Lewis, I reckon Springfield is far more silvertail than Waterfall Gully. Don Farrell’s house is on First Creek and prone to flooding. But the dam is about to burst in SA Labor.

  6. Good on him.

    Can’t stand Farrell. His fingerprints have been all over every major stoush in the SA Labor Party for every one of the 20 years+ I’ve been involved.

    But worse still, he’s a nest-featherer. No interest in policy except for those which further his personal agenda. He’s after a sinecure from which he can continue to turn the SA Labor Party into a sad facsimile of the DLP.

    If he gets preselected the ALP can kiss goodbye to any support from me. I’ve had enough of the bastard.

  7. TT: yeah, I think you might be right.

    “The Machine” was one of the saddest developments in the Party. By locking out non-factional members (or people from the smaller factions) from involvement in party matters, all it achieved was to send the message the party wasn’t interested in the views of ordinary members.

    I was both a Personal Assistant and a Sub-Branch Secretary at this time and the lengths the factions were prepared to go to – particularly Farrell’s SDA contingent of the Right – to shut out participation was frightening. My member’s and my own branch had people stacked into it; some of whom had no idea they had been joined up to the Labor Party. One guy told me he didn’t even vote Labor!

    If nothing else comes out of this, let’s at least have a discussion about democracy in the Labor Party. It’s about time power was put back in the hands of the membership, and that “Godfathers” like Farrell become a thing of the past.

  8. Without wanting to detract from the substance of your comment, it’s still worth pointing out that in an era of ~$500k median house prices a “million dollar mansion” ain’t what it once was.

  9. Thanks for the great guide Bill!

    If I may point out that Kris Hanna in Mitchell was Labor-Green-Independent but apart from that very spot on.

    After this morning’s offer by Premier Weatherill to resign if Don Farrell is pre-selected in Napier, I am sure the Right of the ALP in SA will take him up on the offer.

    People in politics know Don Farrell has no interest in being Premier or anything too burdensome – but he certainly runs the place – and within a matter of days Jay Weatherill will be leading a dispirited & disunited ALP into an election massacre or he will be replaced by leading right bovver boy ‘Turbo’ Tom Koutstantonis – who will still lose.

    BTW, interestingly, the ALP have made yet unreleased ads for the election based on actors bagging the Libs (Fed & State) and the positive ads prominently feature Tom K in hard hat as the voiceover spruiks the State Government’s infrastructure spending. Of course Weatherill features in voiceovers and some scenes, but he is easy enough to replace…

  10. I don’t know why Don Farrell is bothering. He is over 60 years old for God’s sake. He should just piss off and live in his ultra lux mansion for life.

    I fear, that with his destructive factionalism he is going to cost Labor winning a perfectly winnable election.

    If Weatherill sticks to his word and emerges with Don not preselected, than he will have more legitimicy and strength than ever. I somehow fear this may not be the case.

  11. Don Farrell right now is criticising Rudd and blaming him for his loss – yet in this case he is no different to Rudd in that he puts his own interests before his own party.

  12. [Jay Weatherill has just threatened to resign before the state election if Don Farrell is preselected.]
    About time someone stood up to these bastards.

    Having participated in the carnage at the Federal level, Farrell is now slithering back to state politics to have a go at trashing that. He and his ilk should shove off and allow some kind of functional Labor/centre-left/progressive party to be rebuilt from the wreckage they have left behind.

  13. Unsurprisingly, the hard right, elitist faction hacks of PB are in the main thread trying to defend this and present Farrell as an angel who is only trying to make the world a better place.

  14. [Latika Bourke ‏@latikambourke 1m
    Don Farrell on @ABCNews24 ‘I shall play no further part in public life, state or federally.’ Big for SA Labor politics.]

    Okay, today just became a great day for SA.

  15. My take on the suburbs issue –

    Springfield is where you live when you want to be able to tell people how impressive you are. Lots of large black Mercedes 4WDs, super-over priced women’s clothing shops, and ostentatious renovations.

    Burnside (which Waterfall Gully Rd borders) is where you live where you want to live in a rich, private part of town. Lots of pedigree dogs, lawn tennis clubs, and large rambling houses with large rambling gardens.

  16. I agree, Carey.

    It is still entirely possible that Vicki Chapman will say something monumentally stupid during the last week of the campaign 😉

  17. Patrick: a very good friend of mine grew up on Waterfall Guly Road, Burnside.

    Her house is just a few doors up from Chateau Farrell 😉

  18. I wonder if Farrell has been offered something else?

    He said “take no further part in public life at either a state or federal level”, but that leaves open all sorts of other opportunities at an international level 😉

  19. TT: I love the way Psephos is suggesting this was an evil Left plot designed specifically to bring down The Don.



  20. I have no doubt Jay Weatherill will emerge from today stronger than ever. Good on him for sticking to his word and taking no prisinors. I admire him more than ever now. I wish he would one day in the not too distant future be a figure in federal politics. He has goods.

  21. #US @ 13

    Farrell is turning 60 this year.

    My mate in the ALP Right was just printing some “Don 4 SA” T shirts too when he pulled out. Pity.

    I am waiting for someone to do a Miley Cyrus Wrecking Ball parody with Don Farrell in it.

  22. 😀

    My biggest fear, though – if he’s true to his word – is this leaves him with far too much time on his hands.

    Farrell bored and experiencing a power vacuum. A dangerous combination, IMHO.

  23. If I were Weatherill’s campaign manager, I’d very much spin this as JW being an independent leader who doesn’t kneel the the factions and old boys, and is about the state and party of the 21st century. Or something like that. Very much in line with the whole “Jay 4 SA” motif.

    Probably would fail but it’d be worth a shot.

  24. [Farrell for local Council ;-)]
    Probably about the right level of transparency and democracy for a man of his aptitudes.

  25. [Don Farrell on @ABCNews24 ‘I shall play no further part in public life, state or federally.’]

    Because everyone told me to fark off.

  26. Somehow I get the feeling that the people behind the leaks for the past few months were people behind Farrell such as Michael O’Brien.

    Now that that is gone, everything should be good now.

  27. [And, just like that, SA Labor became NSW Labor.]

    I retract this. If it were NSW Labor, Farrell would’ve won the stand-off and John Rau, Jack Snelling or Tom Koutsantonis would be off to the Governor to become Premier.

  28. Carey Moore @38

    I am even optimistic now that NSW Labor is on the mend slowly but surely.

    I just hope they axe Robbo within the next few months. He is a lame dead duck that no one gives two hoots about.

  29. So why did Weatherill have to go to the point of threatening to resign if Farrell got the nod? Did he not have the numbers to do it any other way or did he just want to blow the guy out of the water as quickly and spectacularly as possible?

  30. [So why did Weatherill have to go to the point of threatening to resign if Farrell got the nod? Did he not have the numbers to do it any other way or did he just want to blow the guy out of the water as quickly and spectacularly as possible?]

    I think that the Left (or other opponents of Farrell) have realised that the only way to beat Farrell in a factional battle is by making it a public one. If it’s done in private, then he wins because the machine is still well stacked in his favour.

  31. Carey Moore@43

    So why did Weatherill have to go to the point of threatening to resign if Farrell got the nod? Did he not have the numbers to do it any other way or did he just want to blow the guy out of the water as quickly and spectacularly as possible?

    I think that the Left (or other opponents of Farrell) have realised that the only way to beat Farrell in a factional battle is by making it a public one. If it’s done in private, then he wins because the machine is still well stacked in his favour.

    If that is the case then there is a problem. If he only gets his way against “the machine” by threatening to blow everything up, then even if he wins the election he won’t be able to get his way with that tactic again for a while. So it should be able to be spun as a serious stability issue.

    Thought Farrell’s form of words ” I don’t want to see what’s happening federally happen in SA.” was unfortunate if correctly quoted. What’s happening federally is the party is making some attempt to learn from its mistakes, putting the past behind it and leading a new government in the polls. He should have used past tense.

  32. [I retract this. If it were NSW Labor, Farrell would’ve won the stand-off and John Rau, Jack Snelling or Tom Koutsantonis would be off to the Governor to become Premier.]

    Likely all 3.

  33. You’re right, Kevin and it’s all been clunkily handled. Farrell should’ve discussed this privately with Weatherill as well.

    While it’s a good look for Weatherill to stand up against Farrell (and, by extension, the factional bosses) he did reveal one bit of knowledge that could really badly hurt Labor: that his leadership is not as secure as we were led to believe. This plays well into the Libs’ hands who’ve worked their absolute hardest to put up a united front since Marshall became leader.

  34. Afternoon all. Busy at work today and only just caught up with the news. Farrell what were you thinking??? Now Labor will cop the disunity tag from now till when Marshall becomes premier.

    Surely this thing should have been sorted out in private in advance. As others have said, Farrell should have left the Senate to go live in his million dollar mansion. Speaking of which, how much do they pay union officials now? Waterfall Gully Road is like an address in Toorak.

    Good for Weatherall for staying strong. He was on a hiding to nothing if he let Farrell slither into State politics. Trouble is, I think this is the last nail in the SA Labor coffin, precisely because it exposes that the party machine runs almost everything.

    The SDAE are the same geniuses who sent Bernard Finnigan to the upper house. Do they have any toes left to shoot off?

  35. Just incidentally, I was a stone’s throw away from Michael O’Brien’s electorate office today (I was popping into Munno Para Dan Murphy’s on the way home for something to soften the blow of this heat). There was a channel 10 broadcast truck camped outside in the carpark and a camera person setting up. I am guessing O’Brien had a few things to say (I missed the evening news.)

  36. [Is O’Brien definite in his resignation?]

    No idea. Anyone?

    [Can Labor still hold his seat now? They only have a two seat margin…]

    Napier is one of the safest Labor seats in the state. And there are no notable independents in the area that could pull an upset (Aldridge couldn’t, before anybody mentions him) so I’d say the seat will be comfortably retained by Labor, regardless of who the candidate is.

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