March 29th 2014

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Articles from this issue:

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Clive Palmer, the would-be powerbroker

SOUTH AUSTRALIAN STATE ELECTION: Independent MP puts Labor back in power

TASMANIAN STATE ELECTION: Massive swing to Liberals, major shock for Labor

EDITORIAL: SA, Tasmanian elections confirm Labor's decline

ECONOMIC AGENDA: Fixing the distorted high Australian dollar

HUMAN RIGHTS: Restoring human rights protection to children

AUSTRALIAN HISTORY: New perspectives on the 1955 Labor split

NEW ZEALAND: Export boom sees NZ's economy forge ahead

UKRAINE CRISIS: Ukrainian church leaders urge Putin to back down

UNITED STATES: Justice Dept drags its feet over sex-trafficking website

OPINION: Repeal, don't amend, laws that threaten free speech


TELEVISION: Rival depictions of a modern-day Sherlock Holmes

BOOK REVIEW The generals who started the war on the family

BOOK REVIEW Australia's first major victory in the Great War

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Independent MP puts Labor back in power

by Jerome Appleby

News Weekly, March 29, 2014

Since the following article was written, independent MP Geoff Brock has decided to use his vote in the House of Assembly to keep Labor in power.

The Liberal Party has been robbed of winning government in its own right in South Australia for the second election in a row, despite gaining the popular vote. But the party may still be able to form government with the help of independents.

That seems to be the case at the time of writing, although there are still many pre-poll and postal votes to be counted.

There are 47 lower house seats in the South Australian parliament. Predictions are that Labor will win 23, the Liberals 22 and independents the remaining two seats, meaning that both parties will be just shy of the 24 seats to form government in their own right.

Major party leaders, Jay Weatherill for Labor and Steven Marshall for the Liberals, are courting independents Geoff Brock and Bob Such.

Both independents live in conservative electorates which overwhelmingly voted Liberal as a second preference. Bob Such was originally elected in his electorate of Fisher as a Liberal and served as a minister before walking out on the party, so there is some history that will need to be smoothed over if the Liberals are to convince him to join them.

Geoff Brock was elected in Frome as an independent. Liberal Rob Kerin’s resignation from the seat in 2009, after his failed bid to become premier in 2006, forced the by-election. Brock previously served as a mayor of Port Pirie. His seat was heavily targeted by the Liberals this time around, so things may have to be smoothed over with him by the party, too.

Both independents have met with each other to discuss the decision. Each has indicated that they will make a decision based on what is best for South Australia rather than just their own electorates.

An Advertiser-Galaxy poll of both of the independents’ seats, Fisher and Frome, found that voters overwhelmingly want Such and Brock to side with the Liberals to form government.

In Fisher, when asked which party Bob Such should support to form government, 66 per cent of voters said Liberal, 27 per cent Labor and 7 per cent were uncommitted.

In Frome, 53 per cent wanted Brock to support the Liberals, 35 per cent Labor and 12 per cent were uncommitted.

When both electorates are totalled, this equals 60 per cent in favour of the independents supporting the Liberals.

In the Legislative Council, of the 11 seats available, it looks as though the Liberal and Labor parties will win four seats each, while the Xenophon Team, the Greens and Family First will win one each.

Dignity for Disability seems certain to fail to win a further seat in the upper chamber. Kelly Vincent, who was elected in 2010, will probably be a one-term member, as was Ann Bressington. Bressington was originally elected on a Nick Xenophon ticket in 2006, but did not re-contest at this election.

As in the previous parliament, neither Liberal nor Labor will have a majority in the upper house.

A number of Liberal Party members have criticised the electoral system for its failure to deliver government to the Liberals in spite of their winning a majority of the votes.

Adelaide’s daily paper, The Advertiser, reported that Martin Hamilton-Smith, a former state Liberal leader, said that the party “had won the majority of votes in 1989, 2002 and 2010, but failed to win enough seats to form government after the polls”.

“There is something wrong with our electoral system where South Australians keep voting for a Liberal Party and not getting it,’’ he said.

Referring to the 2010 election result, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said recently that it’s “an extraordinary situation where you can win 52 per cent of the two-party-preferred vote and still be six seats short of a majority”.

Alexander Downer, state president of the Liberal Party, wrote that “the redistribution for this election did nothing to rectify the disconnect between voters’ choice and seats”.

At the time of writing the Liberal Party had recorded a 3.2 per cent primary vote swing.

In the last week of the campaign, the Liberal Party’s poll lead narrowed, but it is difficult to pinpoint why. Already there is discussion about what went wrong.

Part of the problem may have been that big swings against Labor at the last election made some seats look deceptively marginal.

One Labor MP has remarked that in his marginal seat the Liberal Party was “good on the ground out here but central office let them down”.

Others have suggested that the Liberals’ small-target strategy failed them, but that is easy to say with the benefit of hindsight.

If the Liberals had provided more details about, for instance, how they planned to get the budget back into black, then they could have been subjected to a stronger scare campaign about cuts and would have fared worse.

Whichever way the two independents decide to go, recent history would suggest that being an independent in a minority government is electoral poison. 

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