South Australian election minus two-and-a-bit years

An overdue round-up of state electoral developments in South Australia, most of them involving the internal affairs of the Liberal Party.

Peter Malinauskas’s Labor government in South Australia is approaching the mid-point of the four-year term it won in March 2022, and is yet to be tested by an opinion poll. While the government is struggling to deliver on its signature election promise of reducing ambulance ramping, it has otherwise kept out of trouble and presumably remains in the ascendant. Greater clarity about the next election must await a redistribution process that can be expected to begin shortly with a call for submissions.

This site’s last post about South Australian affairs came in July 2022 when Jack Beatty succeeded Vickie Chapman in the by-election for Bragg, where the safe Liberal margin was further whittled back by 2.5% following an 8.8% swing to Labor at the election. Defeated Liberal premier Steven Marshall remains in his marginal seat of Dunstan, but his low-key parliamentary activity and appointment to board and director positions are increasingly attracting comment. Paul Starick of The Advertiser suggests Marshall has “waited to trigger a by-election until the Liberals have a chance of victory”, and that the moment might soon arrive. Positioned to succeed him in Dunstan is Anna Finizio, former solicitor, state government media adviser, public policy and economics manager at PwC and federal candidate for Hindmarsh.

David Speirs has been undisturbed in the Liberal leadership since succeeding Marshall after the election, apart from occasional suggestions he should watch out for Vincent Tarzia and, increasingly, Ashton Hurn (whose prospects were said by The Advertiser’s Paul Starick to have suffered from the party’s growing conservative ascendancy, on which more below). There is also a mounting expectation that former federal Boothby MP Nicolle Flint will seek to recover the rural seat of MacKillop from party renegade Nick McBride at the next election, ultimately in pursuit of leadership ambitions.

The Liberal Party’s conservative turn has been accomplished through a reported surge of 1000 new members, accounting for nearly 20% of the total. Much of this has been attributed to Trump-echoing conservative Senator Alex Antic, who boasts that “the days of the Liberal Party in South Australia being controlled by 25-year-old ABC-watching, Guardian-reading political staffers are over”. David Penberthy of The Australian further notes the moderate establishment that dominated the Marshall government alienated conservatives through abortion and euthanasia reforms, business through land tax reforms, and libertarians through its management of the pandemic.

The following changes in parliament have occurred since the Bragg by-election, only the first involving the lower house:

• MacKillop MP Nick McBride quit the Liberal Party in July, putting the lower house numbers at Labor 27, Liberal 15 and independents five. McBride said he believed his country seat would be better served by an independent, but also complained of “dark forces” who had moved the party from the “broad church” of John Howard and Bob Menzies. The move notably came a fortnight after local party positions were usurped by husband-and-wife Pentecostal pastors Matthew and Janine Neumann. There have been occasional suggestions McBride might form a breakaway rural conservative party with Mount Gambier independent Troy Bell.

• SA-Best MLC Frank Pangallo quit the party on December 1 to sit as an independent, saying he and his sole colleague, Connie Bonaros, “no longer share our once-aligned ideologies”. Paul Starick of The Advertiser reported the two had fallen out after Bonaros threw her support behind government legislation for the merger of University of Adelaide and UniSA, which Pangallo wanted more time to consider in detail. The SA-Best seats are a product of staggered terms and the peak of the Nick Xenophon wave in 2018, which crashed in 2022.

• Labor MLC Irene Pnevmatikos retired in October due to ill health and was succeeded by Mira El Dannawi, assistant director of Modbury Community Children’s Centre. David Simmons of InDaily reports El Dannawi was chosen by Labor’s executive after winning decisive backing from Pnevmatikos’s Left faction, becoming the first Muslim to serve in state parliament.

• Former Health Minister Stephen Wade retired from the Legislative Council in January, with Ben Hood chosen by the Liberal Party to complete the three years of his term. Hood is a former Mount Gambier councillor and unsuccessful candidate for the state seat of Mount Gambier, and the brother of Lucy Hood, the Labor member for Adelaide. He reportedly pursued preselection despite opposition from party leader and fellow conservative David Speirs, who wished for him to continue pursuing independent Troy Bell in Mount Gambier. Hood won 119 votes in the ballot of the party’s state council ahead of 87 for moderate-aligned Leah Grantham, state party vice-president and daughter of former Legislative Council President John Dawkins. An early contender was Hannah March, moderate-aligned former prosecutor and chief-of-staff to Defence Minister Christopher Pyne, but she withdrew amid a bid to expel her from the party and a defamation concerns notice from Senator Alex Antic, who accused her of “bullying”.

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.

25 comments on “South Australian election minus two-and-a-bit years”

  1. Steady as she goes here in SA- we are not really fertile ground for Fundamentalist, shouty, destructive politics. LNP will swing that way at their peril.

    The Govt has 3 huge projects to now kick start in their last 2 years- 3 projects that the last Govt underfunded, under planned and rushed. All had to go back to the drawing board for re-design and proper costing:

    North-South Tunnel (10billion +++)
    Womens and Childrens Hospital (2.6billion)
    National Aboriginal Cultural Centre (0.5billion)

  2. It’s really a shame that there has been no polling to trigger a SA state discussion thread. The lack of SA polling is, frankly, frustrating. If any other state had such a polling drought, there’d be great concern and offence but, yeah yeah, nobody cares what the people of Australia’s Punching Bag thinks. I know. You don’t need to tell me, or roll out the hacky, worn-out jokes and references to events from last century.

    As my mid-term report card for the Malinauskas Government. I give them a B-. They’re good at day to day management but they’re also very “DLP” in their cultural approach to running things. Very authoritarian and pro-police, and money is being drained from arts and tech research (outside of defence), and put into things like law enforcement and other myopic things. Although credit for some assistance through cost of living issues, but not that much.

    As for some vision or big ideas to pull this state out of its malaise, they seem to be going for a combination of hoping some big investment boosts the economy or there is suddenly a mining boom but it seems mostly they’re just resigned to SA being what it is for now. There isn’t really any big ideas (from any corner – most “big ideas” seem to be something in the lines of “cut taxes further and make people work for less” or some gimmicky project idea that will never take off.)

    But fortunately for them, the Opposition is completely invisible and useless. I don’t think David Speirs’s own mother would be able to identify him, he’s that ineffective. He’s really just there to keep the seat warm until the Government becomes vulnerable and a new, more electable figure like Hurn can become leader. That is, unless the hard right are successful in their take over, then it will be a similar story to the Victorian Liberal Party. While I am not going to pretend that this place is some progressive oasis (or any other political onanism typical of some interstate commentators), the Liberal Party seems to be successful here when it is presented as pragmatic, minimally ideological and laser-focused on economic issues.

    Although, I do wonder what the future of this state’s politics could look like if the hard right take over the state branch of the Liberal Party and the SDA keep their grip of the ALP tightened (Malinauskas, his Treasurer and possible one-day successor Stephen Mullighan, and senior high-ranker, who’s been in too long, Tom Koutsantonis are all a part of the extremely tradcath pro-business element of the party) one wonders where the small L liberals and the social progressives are going to go. Maybe they’ll kid themselves and keep staying as the quiet minority in their respective parties, or maybe they’ll have enough and do something radical. Who knows.

  3. Mali is very progressive for an SDA man. Kousantonis is the head-kicker and go-to man that every government needs. Mullighan has an Anglican background I think. He seems pretty good blo k e. Picton is a goer but will be destroyed by the Health portfolio like oth ers before him.

    There’s not much else on either side, apart from Hurn.

  4. The hostile takeover of the Libs by radical Pentecostals continues.

    We really need to keep a close eye on this. Those weirdos view Atwood’s work as seminal. They would welcome South Gilead on our shores.

    Morrison is not the only one.

    Thank you for another excellent state based update.

  5. I’d be a bit cynical about the hard-right of the ALP holding that level of control once some other rising stars start to emerge from across the party, being mindful that the wunderkinds of the last time the hard-right were totally seizing control of the ALP are now instead desperately trying to revitalise Family First.

  6. Hurn is expecting a baby so (without wanting to presume too much) it might well suit her to wait … for now.

    I disagree that David Spiers is invisible. Rather he just isn’t resonating with the voters (IMHO).

  7. Well I don’t think anyone’s seriously suggesting she become leader in the next couple of months, so I think she’ll be fine in that regard. Not that I necessarily think she is the answer or will be good. I’ve seen a lot of potential future leaders fizzle into nothing, either because they end up being lacklustre or their time passes. Who knows what the future holds.

    I will give the Liberal Party this: they learned their mistake from the last time they were knocked into opposition and aren’t just hanging on to the same bunch of tired MPs. Last election brought in a lot of fresh faces and, while that means inexperience in the short term, it does mean a fresher approach as well as the party room not being bogged down by old hard-heads carrying grudges and fighting yesterday’s battles. That was one of the big problems that plagued them in the 2000s.

  8. S.A. Labor has a lot of talent, it has a gender balance, and is on track and in touch with the Community. And they are not making any mistakes, infrastructure for one example is forging ahead. Watch out for the talented young woman that are passionate about their local Communities and are very savvy with Social Media and engagement. The Liberals seem tired and listless, they have a long row to hoe. “General overview”!

  9. The Mali Government is the best moderate Liberal government Australia has had this century. Croweaters who are not left-of-centre should be grateful; SA is about as close as it gets to a one-party state in Australia in the 21st century. If you think that’s over the top, consider the track record since the Playmander was abolished by Steele Hall in 1969…
    – in the last 55 years, the SA Liberals have won a majority THREE times
    – 1979 was a fluke, attributable to union morons who thought a public transport strike with 90 minutes notice, 5 days out from an election would be a good idea
    – 1993 was induced by the State Bank catastrophe
    – 2018 was a case of ‘Its Time’ for a government under the leadership of an arrogant, out of touch ideologue
    Admittedly they were very unlucky in 2002 and 2018 but then as the saying goes, you make your own luck!
    Against that history, why would anyone with any ability waste their time as a Liberal in the SA Parliament?? There’s a reason the Marshall Government comprised a bunch of duds with the intellect and political nous to be Ministers for Sport, Diversity and Inclusion

  10. As a NSWelshman I appreciate the Intel on the LP in SA. I find it interesting that the infiltration of loony Christians is seen by them and some (RE Antic) as being the saviour of the Libs when in fact it’s part of their current decline.

  11. The 2018 result also had the Xenophon phenomenon where dear old Nick gave the disgruntled centre somewhere to park their vote. SA best didn’t when Amy lower house seats but it stopped people truly shifting their votes. It made it easier for the Libs to lose those votes when they under performed in government.

    At the time the ALP cursed Xenophon, but he did them a favour in the end.

    Antic is a clear and present danger. He is a foot soldier for south Gilead.

  12. South Australia has hit snooze mode.The pretty boy premier cannot breakthrough for any serious hard reform and that’s because it upsets who he really represents and that is the public sector unions.
    The premier is flakey liberals need an attack dog to rip into pretty boy.

  13. As a resident of Sturt/Bragg I have to agree with others that the Pentecostal takeover of the SA Liberals has zero appeal to anyone external to the party. It seems completely at odds with community sentiment.

    Here in Sturt/Bragg we now have two Liberal MPs (State Jack Batty, Federal James Stevens) who are all but invisible to the local electorate. I think a good Labor or teal candidate could win here next time.


    I am a transport planner and am frustrated by the intention of Malinauskas to plough ahead with the NS Corridor, a project that shows all the wisdom of the Sydney Rozelle interchange. It will cost a fortune, soak up all the budget so that nothing else happens in transport for a decade, make little difference to access and congestion in most of Adelaide, and simply generate more traffic. The scale of the project is completely disproportionate to Adelaide traffic congestion. It is just corporate welfare for road builders.

    Lots of other cheaper and more effective transport improvements proposed under the Weatherall government were parked by the SA Liberals and Malinauskas has not revisited them.

    The stall on road funding while NS Corridor is revised has combined with the large loss in SA naval shipbuilding work from the cancellation of the Attack class submarines (cost 2000 jobs; AUKUS jobs 10 years away) and the multi-year delay of Hunter Class frigates (5000 jobs). This means that the last few years has seen quite a severe downturn in Adelaide engineering employment.

    Overall SA employment is still high thanks to private investment in housing and mining activity, but the Morrison, Marshall, Albanese and Malinauskas governments have done SA no favours in terms of government funding.

    That being said, as long as the SA Liberals remain a far right religious fundamentalist party they are unelectable. So SA Labor is safe as negative gearing, no matter what they do or don’t fund.

  14. South Australia has been in snooze mode for 150 years. The people are happy that way.

    Meanwhile the LNP has been taken over by south Gileadeans and anyone who does not think that is a problem is a fool. A sanctimonious one at that.

    Look at Victoria and WA. Libs from both states can’t fill a minibus. It’s a bus of happy clappers so at least they can sing khumbyah until the sacred cows come home. (In case you missed the point.)

  15. For those considering an EV you might wish to reconsider an IONIQ by way of doing research in what happens after you buy one.

    (We are not the owners). Another tyre done with a low speed bump into a kerb. Car towed away yet again. Owners thinking of actually carrying a spare and costing it… absolute price gouging going on with some of the prices being quoted. Savings on fuel very, very rapidly being eroded by the tyres.

  16. ‘Socrates says:
    Wednesday, January 3, 2024 at 10:07 am

    That being said, as long as the SA Liberals remain a far right religious fundamentalist party they are unelectable. So SA Labor is safe as negative gearing, no matter what they do or don’t fund.’
    The ACT Liberals are going through a deadly internecine struggle between the relatively sane and the wild-eyed religious crazies.

  17. Boerwar, I’ve been happily whirring around in my electric MG for a year and a half. Awesome vehicle. No problem with tyres.

    Has not cost me a cent.

    Love it!

  18. A thread on my old home State.

    The comments infested by those critical of Labor governments regardless, being what is left of the LCP and the very few who vote Greens.

    Which seems to be the way on these threads.

  19. Coming from someone who lives in one of the few safe Liberal seats in the state it is a sense of we are disappointed in both major’s but until a credible third party comes along we aren’t changing from what we know. In my seat that’s sticking with the local Lib and in the metro that’s going with Labor because while they aren’t popular always we know them and they are a lot more visible than the alternative. In a state like SA I don’t think you can underestimate the value of a good local member either and over the years Labor have had the far better local members. The Liberals have a tough road back because they have to appeal to the moderate Marginals in the North East while also winning back rural former heartland seats from the Independents. I’d offer two future Liberal leaders in the state, once is Nicole Flint who is a darling of the Conservative movement here and the other is Nicola Centofanti who I think will be the next member for Chaffey when Tim Whetstone retires.

  20. Mali has clearly written off the Libs (probably justified) – amidst continued issues across the major state systems (health, policing, child protection, education) the end of year messaging, at a time of some sombreness in the state, regaled us with his achievements including: banning phones in schools (with Labor talking up a drop in reported violence and parents and teachers commenting that’s because bullied kids can no longer rely on mobile phone footage for evidence so it’s going unaddressed), moving to eliminate one of our universities (presumably at greater administrative cost of a more complex beast together with an immediate drop in rankings and less access to funding capped per institution), and subsidising a bunch of events (no real complaints here, who doesn’t love circuses, especially the two-fer of working up Victorians who feel that anything short of their team getting all 24 games in Melbourne is a stitch up).

    Aside from that his team are steering clear of speaking to any of the major issues, presumably in the hope people either forget them (reasonably buoyed by the lack of opposition and critical media) or at least think someone else is responsible (see Mali deflecting to Albo), instead focusing on beautiful montages of our fit premier (did you see him without his shirt?) and growing young family, interspersed with reminders that he’s just like the rest of us (loves his footy and is charmingly a bit of an average kick but gives it a real go! Did you know he used to work at Woolies? Well just in case he has time to pop by his employer every few months for a bit of reel, though oddly not a lot of SDA reel).

    To be gracious, there’s a half dozen positive practical regulation and legislation changes in there (eg having service centres open on Saturdays, funding a couple of 24/7 pharmacies, some more public housing, some more fee-free TAFE places), along with some kicking the can down the road on other ideas (eg a royal commission to work out how to have more childcare and preschool, rather than say just getting on with it after 4 years presumably planning in opposition), but given each incremental example of a government doing its basic job is heralded as a once-in-a-generation miracle performed by the second coming of both Dunstan and Playford, you’d be forgiven for being a little confused by the disconnect between the stories coming out of the Premier’s media office, or indeed the transformational rhetoric of the Premier himself, and the reality on the ground that the things that have changed since Labor retook its rightful place as (to quote the Premier educating a young class of students) “the Boss of South Australia” are far from transformational, and that by and large if things are going anywhere at all it’s not entirely clear that where they’re going is the right direction.

    As further evidence that the focus of the Labor machine, much like the dog chasing the postie, is the pursuit of power itself, the party has already pivoted into election mode with local MPs focusing heavily on community events and letter drops, reframing the unachievable electoral promises that swept them to victory (we didn’t mean we’d fix ramping, just move the needle on one of the specific metrics), and the Premier himself focused on showcasing his love of multiculturalism through attendance and targeted media to each community critical to Labor’s successful post-Playford stranglehold on state politics.

    None of this is in itself a terrible thing (though who is driving the strategy of our state with Mali busy celebrating the once-in-a-generation opening of a Peters of Kensington delivery containing a new lifetime warranty saucepan?), but it does illustrate the somewhat depressing lack of accountability in our state’s political system with both bifactional and bipartisan tacit agreement over keeping a mediocre and unchallenging status quo.

    It’s both no wonder that promising third-party and independent movements seem to have first taken root here in SA, and equally surprising that one of these has yet to make a real dent in our state politics (as SA-BEST threatened to do before that most damaging of election ads).

    What will be interesting is seeing what happens as the polls dip, especially if Mali comes under pressure and sneaks through in a minority government at the next election, particularly given the focus of the party on presidential-style campaigning and messaging, the seeming suppression of ministerial and cabinet leadership in favour of central decision-making, and the work to minimise talent opportunities and profile for potential future leaders.

    Prediction: Labor lose four seats, Libs shore up their marginals, Labor hold on to minority government. This presumes the Libs don’t do something foolish like publicly seem to be captured by the radicals, eg appoint one of them as leader.

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