March 4th 2006

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: NATIONAL SECURITY: The sum of all our fears - betrayal

AUSTRALIAN EXPORTS: AWB Iraq wheat sales debacle - whose responsibility now?

CANBERRA OBSERVED: RU-486 vote highlights MPs' moral confusion

EDITORIAL: Drugs: can we prevent more 'Bali Nine' trials?

SOUTH AUSTRALIA: March 18 election - personalities not policies

PUBLIC ISSUES: Reflections on the abortion wars

SCHOOLS: Time to close teacher-training schools?

ECONOMICS: UK report calls for halt to supermarket takeovers

TAIWAN: From plastic keyboards to camera phones

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Sordid message of Leunig's cartoon / The RU-486 debate / Religious beliefs

POLITICAL IDEAS: Alasdair MacIntyre and the bugbear of liberalism

Kevin Rudd for PM? (letter)

Senator Joe McCarthy's 'shameful vendettas' (letter)

Health risks with imported food (letter)

Engineers unfairly stereotyped (letter)

CINEMA: Ignorant critics slam Spielberg's latest, 'Munich'


BOOKS: SADDAM'S SECRETS: How an Iraqi General Defied and Survived Saddam Hussein, by Georges Sada

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March 18 election - personalities not policies

by Damian Wyld

News Weekly, March 4, 2006
Although Labor is leading in opinion polls, the opposition Liberals have got a raft of issues which they can exploit, writes Damian Wyld.

The electoral cycle's silly season is now in full swing in South Australia. Both Liberal Opposition leader Rob Kerin and Labor Premier Mike Rann have accused the other of spin and, while both are gradually defining their points of attack, clear battlefields are yet to emerge. With this in mind, a quick overview of the current parliamentary make-up and state of play is in order.

The 2002 state election produced a hung parliament with four independents, including SA's sole National MP (not in coalition with the Liberals), holding the balance of power. With Labor only one seat short of a majority in the 47-seat House of Assembly, a deal was struck with former Liberal and now independent Peter Lewis, who then became Speaker.

Unsubstantiated claims

The Labor Government has since brought National MP Karlene Maywald and independent Rory McEwen into Cabinet to shore up its position, but lost one of its own to the Greens (Kris Hanna, now standing as an independent). The remaining independent, Bob Such, was made Speaker last year following Peter Lewis's resignation over unsubstantiated claims of paedophilia made by him against public figures.

Whilst these inclusions were clever moves on Mike Rann's part, they did no justice to the talented members on the Labor backbench who have been denied promotion due to political expediency.

The upper house is no less eclectic. SA's 22-member Legislative Council does not have districts as do some other states; it has MLCs, like senators, representing the entire state. There are currently nine Liberals, seven Labor, three Democrats, Family First MLC Andrew Evans, "No Pokies" MLC Nick Xenophon and independent (and former Labor) MLC Terry Cameron. Only half of the seats are currently up for (re)election.

Using previous election results and recent polling as a guide, the likely outcome would see the Liberals and Labor each win four seats, the Democrats lose both seats up for re-election, and the Greens win one, leaving the Liberals, Family First and Nick Xenophon to fight it out for the last two available seats. With a roughly eight per cent quota needed per seat, results here are much more predictable than the House of Assembly.

It is highly likely that the Liberals will regain Peter Lewis' conservative country seat of Hammond, but beyond that the outcomes are far from certain. The Liberals have made it clear that their plan focuses on retaining their own marginal seats, winning several key seats in metropolitan Adelaide, and "taking back" traditionally Liberal seats from National and independent MPs.

Labor, meanwhile, has moved beyond simply targeting marginal Liberal seats and seems quietly confident that some "safer" Liberal seats may be within reach.

While current polling isn't in the Liberals' favour, they do have several new reasons for hope.

The first is the clear end of the unusually long honeymoon accorded to the State Government by the media. In a one-newspaper town, the media can often make or break a government.

The second is the raft of issues suddenly open to attack. Recent problems with the new airport terminal, trams, health services, primary production (particularly in the egg and grape-growing industries) and power supply - to name a few - provide potential openings. It remains to be seen whether these will be effectively probed before the election.

Labor has indicated it will make leadership a key campaign theme, attacking Opposition leader Rob Kerin's "nice bloke, the sort you'd have a beer with" qualities as insufficient for state management, while the Liberals are painting "Media Mike" as nothing more than a populist master of rhetoric and spin.

Social policy is also an area worthy of note. Early in its term, Labor surprised the unions by introducing Sunday trading and angered some of its own by extending pub trading into the early hours of Good Friday, denying its MPs a conscience vote in the process.

A radical sex-education program, developed by SHine SA (an arm of Family Planning), has been put on trial in numerous schools, introducing into the classroom what the author would be reluctant to repeat here. It is certain to continue and expand.

Same-sex legislation

Two same-sex bills were also introduced, including last year's Relationships Bill (which would have effectively equated homosexual relationships with de facto heterosexual couples). One was a private bill, the other a Government bill; but in both instances Labor members were again denied a conscience vote.

While some individual Liberals have been outstanding in their opposition to these issues, it's a shame that there has been no united effort against blatantly anti-family legislation. Family First, as its name would suggest, has been consistent in this regard; but, with only one parliamentarian, it can only achieve so much.

With less than a month until election day, 18 March, and every distraction under the sun to work around - the Commonwealth Games, Adelaide Cup, Clipsal 500 preparation, the Fringe Festival and Festival of Arts, to name but a few - candidates are nearing the end of the race.

The results are anyone's guess.

  • Damian Wyld is South Australian state president of the National Civic Council.

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