On March 20, South Australians will turn out for their four-yearly trek to the ballot box. For the first time in some years, Labor is looking decidedly rattled; but the Liberals have a huge task ahead of them if they are to form government.
The election campaign has been quite refreshing so far. Voters have seen an aggressive contest between Labor Premier Mike Rann and Liberal leader Isobel Redmond. They have also been presented with differing policies and themes, rather than the usual shadow game.
Labor has pledged a new hospital, while the Liberals want to rebuild the current Royal Adelaide Hospital. The Liberals want to build a new city sports stadium and river precinct, while Labor wants to develop the Adelaide Oval.
Labor wants to address the water crisis by building a desalination plant, while the Liberals want to undertake a program of storm-water retention and purification. The Liberals have promised to establish an Independent Commission Against Corruption within their first 100 days in power, while Labor wants to wait for a national approach to corruption.
The Liberals have asked questions about Labor’s trustworthiness, while Labor has attacked the Liberals’ slogan “Redmond is Ready”, painting Ms Redmond as a leader on L-plates. Mr Rann is quick to point out how many Liberal leaders he has seen off, but is referring to the past somewhat as Ms Redmond seems to have forged a relatively cohesive team.
Mr Rann has also had to deal with unwanted attention in the form of Michelle Chantelois. The former parliamentary waitress made claims of an affair with Mr Rann after her estranged husband publicly attacked the Premier with a rolled-up magazine last year.
Rann was spared the witness box in the subsequent assault trial, but his denial of anything more than friendship has not necessarily translated, with polls showing that the public trust Ms Redmond more than Mr Rann. It should be noted that the Liberals have refrained from commenting on the Chantelois issue.
For the Liberals to resume government after eight years in opposition, they will need to gain another 10 seats in the 47-seat House of Assembly. They will have their sights set firstly on several country seats. These include the Riverland seat of Chaffey where Nationals MP Karlene Maywald, a minister in the Rann Labor Government, is polling dismally.
Another seat is Mount Gambier, hitherto held by independent MP Rory McEwen, also a minister in the Labor Government. The Liberals will also seek to win back the Mid North seat of Frome, lost in a by-election last year to independent MP Geoff Brock, former mayor of Port Pirie.
In the metropolitan area, Hartley is certainly a marginal seat to watch. Former Liberal MP Joe Scalzi is attempting a comeback against first-term Labor MP, Grace Portolesi. With numerous small parties supporting him, including Family First and the Democratic Labor Party on a pro-life basis, Scalzi’s chances are good.
Several other seats could change hands, including Morialta, Norwood and Light; but a gain of 10 seats could be just beyond the Liberals’ grasp. Time will tell.
The state’s upper house, the Legislative Council, has 11 seats, half of its total of 22, up for grabs. This commentator, having almost predicted the final 2006 line-up in News Weekly (March 4, 2006), would call four seats for Labor, four for the Liberals, one for Family First, one for the Greens, and one seat still undecided.
The last upper house seat could feasibly be picked up by the Liberals, but could also go to one of the smaller players. Independent MLC David Winderlich (Australia’s last Democrat parliamentarian before his defection) is seeking re-election. Having only served a short stint and having a relatively low profile, he has nevertheless undertaken a steady campaign and enlisted support from numerous single-issue groups disenchanted with the Rann Government.
The Democratic Labor Party’s Paul Russell has also made a bid for the seat; but with the newly re-registered party having had little time in which to make itself known, this campaign could be a trial run. Major parties are aware of the DLP’s potential influence; it gained almost one per cent of the last Senate vote, without any campaign, and nearly saved conservative Liberal Senator Grant Chapman.
Of concern to those in the pro-life movement is the possibility of a pro-euthanasia upper house after the state election. With several pro-life parliamentarians retiring and the likely addition of a second Green to the chamber, not to mention last year’s defeat of euthanasia by a mere one vote, this is a well-founded fear.
The overall result of the March 20 election is far from certain at this point. With the Liberals expecting a swing, but pushing uphill to gain 10 seats, a minority government is even a possibility. Which side the independents would support, goodness knows.
Damian Wyld is South Australian state president of the National Civic Council.