Less than 12 months after its 2010 election win, the South Australian state government is undergoing major upheavals.
For most of its nine years in power, the Rann Labor Government has done a remarkable job of keeping a lid on factional warfare and sniping. But Kevin Foley’s impending resignation from the positions of Deputy Premier and Treasurer has blown the lid off completely.
Tensions within the ALP have been simmering for some time, grossly exacerbated last year when the government moved to reduce public service entitlements. This enraged unions, several of which have called for Rann’s and Foley’s heads and the infusion into the Labor leadership of new blood.
Rann’s public standing has also been severely tarnished in recent times by the so-called Puglia Affair, in which it was revealed that the government had spent millions of dollars on trade relations in the Italian region of that name. Benefits have basically been non-existent, with no SA businesses even attending the Puglia trade fair last year. The fact that Mr Rann’s wife Sasha Carruozzo owns property in the region has also been noted as an interesting coincidence.
His deputy’s problems came to a head in late November when he was knocked flat by an apparently unknown assailant outside a city bar around 3:00 am. A man was recently charged, but public debate centred more on whether the state was being well-served by its late-night, partying Deputy Premier.
Foley had been challenged for his position by the Left’s Jay Weatherill immediately after last year’s election, but comfortably saw him off. It has been a different story this time, however, with Foley shifting quickly from a defiant posture of “I’m going nowhere” to an all but completed resignation from his two main portfolios once he returns from the US in February.
He has signalled his intention to remain as Defence Industries Minister, retiring from parliament in 2014.
The Right faction, which has the numbers in Labor caucus, has been quick to decide Foley’s heir (or heirs) apparent. Attorney-General John Rau is set to become deputy while Jack Snelling (who currently holds several portfolios, including employment) is set to become Treasurer.
Rau was overlooked for a ministry for some years, whether the result of factional number-crunching or simply due to an over-capacity cabinet formerly stretched to accommodate two non-Labor MPs (one independent, one National).
Snelling’s name has been accompanied in media reports by labels such as “Catholic” and “conservative”, with predictable mentions of his large family, as though any or all of these were irredeemable handicaps worthy of seeing him passed over.
The Left certainly won’t mind this perception, however, as union figures publicly bewail the fact that their preferred candidate, Education Minister Jay Weatherill, continues to play the bridesmaid and never the bride.
While some might see the Right’s manoeuvring as an attempt to ensure a smooth transition, the Left have accused the Right of riding roughshod over accepted party conventions and public opinion.
Australian Worker’s Union state secretary Wayne Hanson, for example, was quoted by the ABC as backing Weatherill simply on the basis of opinion polls.
He attacked the Right’s candidates, accusing the faction of priding itself on having “so much power in politics in South Australia” and of “anointing people” providing they could scrape together “an appeal within the community (of) at least of 1 per cent”.
SA Unions secretary Janet Giles was even more scathing. She said: “We want a fresh approach from this Labor Government, not a ‘mini-me’ substitute for Kevin Foley with the same people pulling the strings behind the scenes.”
“String-pulling” and “faceless men” tags have been heard even more this past week as Police Minister Michael Wright, a member of the Right, publicly challenged his own factional colleagues to “blast” him out. He claimed that “immature” powerbrokers were working towards his demise, but that he wouldn’t go without telling a “few home truths”.
Media reports suggest that this new wave of factionalism has caused enough fall-out for several Labor MPs to consider quitting the party. While it is extremely unlikely that large numbers of them will move to the cross-benches, nevertheless the current factional brawls may well determine how many of them bother to stand again in 2014.
Electoral boundary redistributions, coupled with strong polling by the Liberals and a feeling of alienation within the ALP, could see a number of Labor members retire. Indeed, The Advertiser is so sure of this that it has named more than a dozen MPs it expects to retire at, or before, the 2014 election.
Based on current polling, the Liberals could pick up numerous marginal seats and win an election, but that’s a moot point three years out.
The likely rise of John Rau and Jack Snelling will be interesting to observe, but dynamics could alter radically were Premier Rann to follow Deputy Premier Foley’s example of retiring.
Damian Wyld is South Australian state president of the National Civic Council.