Labor Scrapes Back for a Fourth Term in SA

Posted by on May 31, 2014 in General, May 2014 no 76

Labor Scrapes Back for a Fourth Term in SA

 John Wishart and Jack Humphrys

The Result

The ALP has won a fourth term after 12 years in office. It will rely on the support of Port Pirie Independent Jeff Brock. Labor won 23 seats, the Liberals 22 and 2 sitting independents were returned. Bob Such, the second independent is likely to support the ALP Government, although he has yet to commit and has dramatically taken a 2 month leave of absence due to a medical condition. In the Legislative Council election, the status quo has been maintained with 3 ALP, 3  Liberals, 1 Green, I Family First and 1 Xenophon “team member” being elected. Independents and smaller parties have held the balance of power in the Upper House since 1979.

To form government the Liberals needed to win 6 of Labor’s marginal seats, but only managed to win three. The Liberals achieved a 2% swing, but not enough in the key marginals where it counted. For a second time the Liberals have failed to win office despite winning a majority share of the popular vote.

The Campaign

 A steady Labor campaign was led by Premier Jay Weatherill, who replaced Mike Rann as leader of the ALP in late 2012. Since his elevation, there has been a more consultative style of government, rather than the top-down approach of the previous leader and his bellicose Deputy, Kevin Foley.

Weatherill’s  main election pitch was that in uncertain times people needed a state government to intervene and continue to build vital infrastructure. The Liberals under a new leader, one term Steven Marshall, emphasized cutting debt, the public service, red tape and land tax as the way forward for a business led recovery to create an ‘entrepreneurial’ SA.

Weatherill campaigned competently both before and during the election campaign. He improved the River Murray Agreement for SA and fought hard to keep car manufacturer Holden in SA.  A big new city hospital, a $575 million upgrade of the Adelaide Oval and improved public transport infrastructure to some extent neutralised the fallout from the loss of the second phase of investment by BHP Billiton in the giant Roxby Downs copper/gold/uranium mine and the general lethargy in the jobs market.

As disclosed by Labor strategists shortly after the election, Labor combined the state wide “Jay for SA “mass media campaign, with a well-researched and targeted marginal seat focus which raised issues of concern in key marginals.

Marshall adopted a very small target strategy, hoping to sail into power on an “it’s time” sentiment.  The Liberals may have paid dearly for this, compounded when Marshall kept most of his policies very general and did not release costings until the Thursday before the election.

Looking Ahead

Looking ahead, the spectre of coast–to-coast conservative governments has been averted, with both the ACT and SA able to stand up more effectively on issues at the Council of Australian Governments (COAG). As well, it shows other parts of Australia that, even in conservative times the electorate,  does not reject  governments that put jobs, services and infrastructure ahead of an obsessive concern about credit ratings, “red tape”  and  budget deficits. The policy priorities simply need to be clearly and sensibly explained.

The Greens have established themselves as a credible minor party, with two Legislative Council positions guaranteed until 2018, and a minimum of one through to 2022. However, The Greens’ vote is stuck in the 6% to 7% range, barely enough for a quota. They need to find added momentum if they want to really lift their influence in SA. As for the maverick Nick Xenophon’s influence, it may have passed its high point in SA. After gaining an unheard of 25% of the first preference vote in the 2013 Senate election, the “Xenophon team” achieved a more modest 12.5% for the Upper House in the 2014 SA elections.

 The Labor government now has plenty of challenges, which include reflecting on and fixing up a mixed performance on environmental issues. Property developers seem to hold sway with both major parties in SA. Significant chunks of arable farmland have been lost to urban sprawl in the Adelaide Hills and other areas

In the Premier’s own electorate in the western suburbs, a chance to create significant open space and water conservation options was overruled by a housing project. Colonel Light’s vision for a parkland city stopped around the CBD – a modern government has to apply the principle to a much broader metropolitan area.

With thousands of jobs to go at Holden and allied companies in Adelaide’s northern suburbs in 2017 or possibly earlier, there is also a real challenge to build on advanced manufacturing proposals, linked to a higher skills base.

Disappointingly, the preceding government did not take a responsible line on invasive gas and coal extraction. In fact, it encouraged big energy companies to pursue environmentally destructive projects, including on valuable agricultural land, offering companies a 5 year royalty free holiday when production occurs. These policy priorities need to be re-thought.

All of these concerns have in common, the problematic issues of what type of growth is needed in our society and how socially useful investment can create jobs. These are the fundamental concerns for a modern social democracy.

Premier Weatherill is from the Left of the ALP. He is a fundamentally progressive minded leader who has won a mandate in his own right. This will enhance his standing inside the ALP and, with the right decisions, among the electorate. He  needs  to take some more calculated risks, within the philosophical framework for SA that was outlined by former Labor Premier Don Dunstan in his Whitlam lecture of 1998, entitled : ‘We Intervene or We Sink’(See:


John Wishart is an Adelaide based ESL teacher and environmental activist.

Jack Humphrys is print coordinator for Australian Options

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