March 15th 2014

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: Putin's power-grab in Ukraine

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Cabinet bid to 'set Qantas free' in global marketplace

SOUTH AUSTRALIAN STATE ELECTION: Labor fracturing badly after 12 years in power

TASMANIAN STATE ELECTION: The Ides of March for Labor's Lara Giddings?

CORRECTION: Victorian Women's Trust requests correction to News Weekly article

ECONOMIC AGENDA: Abbott government needs an economic agenda

GEOPOLITICS: An emerging mega-zone of conflict

DEFENCE: U.S. and Britain both face defence catastrophes

EASTERN EUROPE: The historical roots of Ukraine's agony

MARRIAGE AND FAMILY: Same-sex 'marriage' and its consequences

LIFE ISSUES: Abortion, depression and suicide

MEDIA: The ABC and its serpent's egg, Radio Triple J

CULTURE: Standing up for day-dreaming

BOOK REVIEW Socialist or Tory anarchist?

BOOK REVIEW The man of God who turned to crime

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Labor fracturing badly after 12 years in power

by Jerome Appleby

News Weekly, March 15, 2014

South Australian voters will soon decide whether to elect a new government for the first time in 12 years.

Leaders of both the major parties — Steven Marshall for the Liberals and Premier Jay Weatherill for Labor — are seeking to be elected premier for the first time on March 15.

Steven Marshall MP.

Mike Rann was re-elected premier at the last election in March 2010, but was knifed and replaced by Jay Weatherill in October 2011. Mr Weatherill has been an MP since 2002.

Steven Marshall replaced Isobel Redmond in January 2013 after she resigned from the Liberal leadership. He is currently serving his first term as an MP, so his rise to the top of the party ranks has been swift.

At the start of the election campaign, it was clear that if Labor was to have any chance at winning the election, it needed to run a flawless campaign.

For a number of reasons, it hasn’t been able to do so.

The school sex scandal, when in various incidents parents at schools were not informed about sexual assaults on their children, has continued to plague the government at times during the election campaign. The scandal has even led to one parent, who has fought the government to reveal details of sex abuse in schools, to run as a candidate for Wright, which could put the seat in play for the Liberals.

Questions about controversial land deals arranged by the government haven’t helped the ALP either.

It was reported recently that a 400ha sale of land to a consortium, Adelaide Capital Partners, for $100 million had not gone out to tender and that ACP had “negotiated directly with Labor Premier Jay Weatherill to secure the land deal” (The Australian, February 25, 2014).

Perhaps most damning of all to the ALP was the public spat between Premier Weatherill and Senator Don Farrell, the spiritual head of the powerful Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) — a moment that was a real turning-point in the campaign.

It was revealed in January of this year that Farrell had hatched a plan to parachute himself into state parliament by replacing Minister Michael O’Brien in the seat of Napier. The problem was that O’Brien and Farrell hadn’t bothered to run the deal past Weatherill, who became quite incensed upon finding out and threatened to quit state parliament if Farrell stood for the seat.

Farrell, a senator who relinquished his top spot on the ALP Senate ticket to left-wing feminist Penny Wong, after outcries from the left, failed to get elected at number two owing to the ALP’s poor vote at the federal election in 2013, and will be out of a job as a parliamentarian at the end of June, hence the scheme.

The quarrel between Weatherill and Farrell was particularly damaging because it not only showed that Weatherill couldn’t work with arguably the state’s most formidable factional powerbroker and thus his effective boss, but, even more seriously, it raised question marks about how much he really wanted to remain premier. Was he really prepared to quit parliament just because Farrell wanted to stand for a state seat?

It was also paradoxical insofar as the SDA was largely responsible for Mike Rann being knifed and replaced with Jay Weatherill in the first place.

Farrell capitulated and ruled out standing for the seat. It is clear from the whole episode that Weatherill saw Farrell as a leadership threat.

Another important issue, the announcement of the closure of General Motors Holden, has not featured as prominently in the campaign as one might have thought, given its significance to the South Australian economy. It seems that many voters have become resigned to the fact that the automotive-maker was surviving on borrowed time. Revelations about the level of salary increases workers received, despite the carmaker being in trouble, may have contributed towards this attitude.

In spite of the election hiccups that the ALP campaign has faced, ABC election analyst Antony Green has pointed out that even a two-party preferred vote of 54-46 in favour of the Liberals would see a hung parliament.

Of course, as Green observed, this assumes a uniform swing and does not take into account the fact that a number of people have enrolled to vote for the first time, while others will have dropped off the roll or moved to other electorates.

But this is a significant issue, especially given that the Liberal Party lost the 2010 election despite winning a majority of the votes. Notwithstanding the fact that the Liberal Party won the popular vote, the ALP managed to win 26 lower house seats to the Liberals’ 18.

Time will tell if the Liberals are able to win a majority of the votes and a majority of seats to govern in their own right. 

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