Margin: Liberal 11.9%
Region: Inner Southern Suburbs
Click to download SA Electoral Commission boundaries map
Martin Hamilton-Smith’s electorate of Waite is located about six kilometres south of the central business district, extending from St Marys and Westbourne Park eastwards through Kingswood and Belair to undeveloped Brown Hill Creek in the Adelaide Hills. The redistribution has added territory to the electorate’s south-western corner, including 3300 voters in St Marys, Pasadena and southern Daw Park from Elder, together with 1400 voters from the balance of St Marys and Pasadena plus southern Panorama from Davenport. In the north-western part of the electorate, it loses Cumberland Park’s 1800 voters to Ashford and 1900 voters in Colonel Light Gardens and the northern part of Daw Park to Elder. The changes have clipped 0.3% from a Liberal margin which reached 12.2% at the 2010 election after falling to a historic low of 4.0% in 2006.
Either Waite or Heysen can be seen as the successor to Mitcham, the only lower house seat in any mainland parliament to have been held by the Australian Democrats. Robin Millhouse held Mitcham throughout the 1970s as his alignment changed from Liberal to Liberal Movement to Australian Democrats, and the seat was maintained for the Democrats by Heather Southcott in 1982 after the Tonkin Liberal government offered Millhouse a Supreme Court appointment in what proved the vain hope of recovering the seat at a by-election. However, Southcott’s parliamentary tenure proved short-lived, with Liberal factional moderate Stephen Baker defeating her when a general election was held later in the year.
Baker became Deputy Premier when Dean Brown led the Liberals to office in 1993, but was deposed in favour of Graham Ingerson as part of John Olsen’s coup against Brown in November 1996. Baker announced his retirement an uncomfortable two months before the October 1997 election, which many interpreted as an act of revenge. The hastily conducted preselection resulted in a win for the Right, whose candidate Martin Hamilton-Smith defeated moderate upper house MP Robert Lawson. This prompted Dean Brown to complain of meddling by federal Right MPs including Nick Minchin, Grant Chapman and Andrew Southcott. Hamilton-Smith came to politics after a 23-year career in the SAS, which included command in the late 1970s and early 1980s of what he now describes as Australia’s first anti-terrorism squad. This unit’s training regimen was so harsh that men under his command were variously “shot dead, gassed, blown up, drowned and seriously wounded”. He found something of a change of pace in the late 1980s when he began operating a chain of childcare centres.
Hamilton-Smith moved quickly up the party’s ranks, serving as Tourism Minister in the Olsen/Kerin government and continuing as a senior front-bencher in opposition. In October 2005 he made a puzzling decision to contest the leadership ahead of an apparently certain election defeat, despite having recently been under pressure over the leak of a confidential report he had prepared for the party room. The challenge was reportedly made at the instigation of Nick Minchin, Alexander Downer and the state party’s then vice-president Cory Bernardi, who hoped to open the way for Iain Evans. Hamilton-Evans backed out on the morning of his planned challenge because he had been unable to harness even enough support to initiate a spill. When the forces around Iain Evans and Vickie Chapman buried their hatchet after the 2006 election to endorse an Evans-Chapman leadership team, there was sufficient opposition to Chapman among conservatives to prompt talk of Hamilton-Smith emerging as a compromise candidate. He initially signalled his intention to put his name forward, but with the factional deal holding fast he opted to withdraw.
When Evans failed to make headway in his first year in the job, Hamilton-Smith secured Chapman’s backing to challenge Evans on the proviso that she remain deputy, and duly defeated him 13-10 in a party vote on April 11. After two years of respectable performance in the job, Hamilton-Smith’s leadership imploded in April 2009 when his dogged pursuit of the government over an alleged exchange of favours for donations with an organisation linked to the Church of Scientology proved to be based on forged documents. Having made the claims outside parliament as well as within, he was sued for defamation by government minister Tom Koutsantonis, former Senator and lobbyist Nick Boluks, party state secretary Michael Brown and party treasurer John Boag.
By July, Hamilton-Smith’s position had deteriorated to the point where he felt compelled to bring on a spill after MacKillop MP Mitch Williams quit the shadow ministry. Williams’ move was universally interpreted as an attempt to undermine Hamilton-Smith ahead of a pitch for his job, but he declined to put his name forward at the ensuing spill, leaving Chapman as Hamilton-Smith’s sole rival. After inital expectations he would comfortably survive, Hamilton-Smith failed to secure clear majority support, winning the vote by 11 to 10 with one abstaining. He then called another spill for the following week, saying a more decisive result was required, but decided over the weekend not to contest. The ensuing ballot was Isobel Redmond defeat Chapman by 13 votes to nine.
Following the 2010 election, Hamilton-Smith confounded his leader by putting his name forward in a party room ballot for the deputy leader when she insisted that Steven Griffiths make way for Iain Evans, and defeating Evans in the ballot by 10 votes to eight. Redmond made clear her refusal to accept the outcome and initiated a ballot, the impasse being resolved when MacKillop MP Mitch Williams emerged as a compromise candidate. With Redmond’s position as leader deteriorating throughout 2012, Hamilton-Smith launched a leadership challenge in October which had the backing of moderate powerbrokers Christopher Pyne and Simon Birmingham, who favoured the unaligned Hamilton-Smith as the faction’s traditional aspirant, Vickie Chapman, had proved unacceptable to the Right. However, Redmond maintained a solid bloc of support among the Right, despite factional powerbrokers Cory Bernardi and Nick Minchin backing the challenge, and was able to persuade wavering rural MPs to support her, which some reportedly did as they were holding out for the promise of Alexander Downer being drafted. After losing the ensuing party room ballot by a single vote, Hamilton-Smith moved to the back bench while refusing to rule out challenging again.
When Redmond announced her decision to stand aside the following January, cross-factional support consolidated behind Marshall to succeed her, with Hamilton-Smith agreeing to give him a clear run. After saying he was consulting with colleagues as to whether to run for deputy, he declined to put his name forward, with Vickie Chapman defeating Iain Evans by 10 votes to eight. He returned to the front bench as a member of Marshall’s streamlined shadow cabinet of eight as Shadow Minister for Economic and Regional Development, Mineral Resources and Energy, Manufacturing, Industry and Trade, and Defence Industries.
All post-redistribution margins are as calculated by Jenni Newton-Farrelly of the South Australian Parliamentary Library. Corrections, complaints and feedback to William Bowe at pollbludger-at-bigpond-dot-com. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.