This post will be progressively updated with news on the South Australian state by-election in Frome, to be held on January 17.
One day to go: this site will be providing live coverage from shortly after the close of polls at 6pm local time tomorrow. Antony Green lays out the officially registered how-to-vote cards, which have been lodged by all candidates bar the Greens. The Flinders News reports that “No Pokies Senator Nick Xenophon and Member of the House of Assembly Kris Hanna are rallying behind (Geoff) Brock to help him become the next local parliamentarian”. Xenophon’s support for Hanna was instrumental in his surprise success in retaining his seat of Mitchell after quitting first Labor and then the Greens during the previous term.
The Australian’s Jamie Walker breathlessly reports that Labor’s direction of preferences to Geoff Brock has “thrown the contest wide open”, as if the alternative – preferences to the Liberals – had been in any way in prospect. The Liberals are “taking this remote possibility seriously”, “spending heavily on advertising and working the electorate to get local policeman Terry Boylan over the line”. We are also told that “the ALP can’t be discounted, either”, though I’ll stick my neck out and say that they can be. The Independent Weekly reports the Greens are not directing preferences. The ABC reports a record 1700 early votes have been received along with 2200 postal vote applications, which the State Electoral Office puts down to the number of people away on holidays. Antony Green has a new post on Frome, mostly focused on the historical record of governments winning seats from oppositions at by-elections.
Former Port Pirie resident Michael Gorey in comments notes that the Nationals are not even putting the Liberals ahead of Labor on preferences: they are issuing a split ticket between the two for third preference behind Geoff Brock. Gorey says we should not rule out the prospect of a Nationals-fuelled Brock overtaking Labor and perhaps achieving an upset with their preferences.
Mike Rann’s tip: “My expectation is that it’s a safe Liberal seat and will continue to be a safe Liberal seat”.
Jamie Walker of The Australian reports Geoff Brock and Neville Watson have arranged to swap preferences.
Russell Emmerson of the Adelaide Advertiser reports that radio ads featuring Mike Rann explaining cuts of 1600 jobs in the government’s recent mini-budget are “under scrutiny” to determine whether they are “electoral material”, and thus in breach of regulations. One very much doubts that the regulations would encompass public information advertising of this kind – what’s more, the ads were broadcast only in the metropolitan area, notwithstanding the opposition’s line that “the footprint for most of these radio stations extends well into the Frome electorate”.
Nominations have closed, and there are no further candidates to those already noted. The ballot paper order is John Rohde (Country Labor); Neville Wilson (Nationals); Terry Boylan (Liberal); Joy O’Brien (Greens); Peter Fitzpatrick (One Nation); Geoff Brock (Independent Your Voice). Antony Green has gone to town on the by-election here. Along with many other facts and figures, he notes something that had previously escaped my notice: that this is the first state by-election in South Australia since 1994. He also observes that Frome was expressly created to serve as a marginal electorate for purposes of the state’s counter-productive arithmetic test of electoral fairness, which he gets stuck into here.
The Northern Argus reports Hallett resident Joy O’Brien and Dublin resident Peter Fitzpatrick will respectively run for the Greens and One Nation. Clare and Gilbert Valleys Mayor Allan Aughey, who has “previously been a Labor Party candidate” (not sure when), has denied rumours he will run as an independent.
The ABC reports that the mayor and deputy mayor of Port Pirie, Geoff Brock and Neville Wilson, will contest the by-election – the former as an independent, the latter as Nationals candidate. Nominations close on Thursday, December 18.
Channel Nine News reports nominations will close on December 18.
Conservative firebrand Christopher Pearson weighs in in his regular column for The Weekend Australian:
The rural electorate of Frome has an industrial end, the city of Port Pirie, where Nyrstar’s mainland lead and zinc-smelting operation is based. Either directly or by way of contractors, the smelter accounts for about 800 jobs and another 600 flow-on jobs. Without them, the city would have no economic reason to exist. Its present unemployment rate is 6.2 per cent. If the plant were to close, it’s estimated the rate would nearly double. On Wednesday, Nyrstar announced it was considering shutting down Pirie’s smelter and its zinc operation in Hobart. Under the eligibility formula in the Rudd Government’s green paper on emissions, Nyrstar is not eligible for assistance as an emissions-intensive, trade-exposed industry. The prospect of a $40 per tonne carbon price, envisaged in Treasury modelling, would drive smelting operations offshore …
On Tuesday there was some doubt over whether Labor would field a candidate at the by-election, despite Kerin’s margin being a low 3.4 per cent. South Australia’s new Country Health Plan has been very poorly received and the Government had resigned itself to a rebuff in a pre-Christmas poll. By Thursday evening, SA Labor had decided to deprive the Liberals of an easy win by postponing the vote until January 17 and running a campaign on the theme of Premier Mike Rann standing up to Canberra and fighting for local jobs. SA Opposition Leader Martin Hamilton-Smith had been expecting a December 13 poll. At first he complained about the delay, which will keep the under-resourced Liberals on a war footing throughout the festive season. However, he seems to have warmed to the task in the wake of reports that the launch of Climate Change Minister Penny Wong’s white paper had suddenly been delayed. Federally, the Coalition welcomes the campaign as a mini-referendum on the design and timing of the Rudd Government’s emissions trading scheme.
House of Assembly Speaker Jack Snelling has set January 17 as the date for the by-election. This has displeased the Liberals, who wished for it to be held on December 13. The accompanying ABC report confirms that John Rohde will contest the seat for Labor.
Thanks to Max in comments for alerting us to the following tidbit from The Advertiser: ”(Premier Mike Rann) said Labor was likely to contest the by-election. Labor’s candidate is likely to be John Rohde who ran for the seat at the last election.”.
Former SA Liberal Premier Rob Kerin has announced his retirement, effective immediately. This will initiate a by-election in his seat of Frome, where his margin fell from 11.5 per cent to 3.4 per cent at the March 2006 election. Kerin had already made it known he would note contest the election, and Port Pirie policeman Terry Boylan was preselected to succeed him in May. Labor also has an election candidate in place – postal worker John Rohde, who also contested in 2002 and 2006 – but the struggling Rann government probably won’t be game to take on a mid-term by-election in a normally safe Liberal seat. Unless a strong independent candidate emerges, Boylan is likely to go untroubled. My election guide entry described the electorate thus:
Frome was created when a redistribution before the 1993 election removed Port Pirie from Stuart, which it had previously dominated along with Port Augusta. Port Pirie is an industrial town whose principal attraction is Pasminco’s lead and zinc smelter, and it provided Labor with a safe seat in the days when it formed an electorate in its own right (which ended when rural vote weighting was abolished in 1970). There has since been a decline in both Port Pirie’s relative population and Labor’s share of the vote. It is now included in Frome as part of a 50 kilometre stretch of the eastern Spencer Gulf coastline, from which the electorate stretches south-eastwards through the Clare Valley wine country to Tarlee, about 50 kilometres north of Adelaide. More than half the electorate’s voters are in small country towns such as Gladstone, Crystal Brook and Clare, which have kept the seat in Liberal hands since Rob Kerin became its inaugural member in 1993.
UPDATE: I note Greg Kelton of The Advertiser reported the following on July 23:
SENIOR Liberals are hatching a plan which would force the Rann Government to face a “super Saturday” of by-elections on the growing political row over changes to country health services … The move would involve three Liberal MPs in rural seats – who are all due to retire at the next election – stepping down to force by-elections. The MPs, Rob Kerin in Frome, Liz Penfold (Flinders) and Graham Gunn (Stuart), have all been outspoken in their criticism of the Government’s planned changes to rural health services … Mr Kerin told The Advertiser the by-election idea had been “mentioned a few times’” but he had not spoken to anyone about stepping down in Frome which he holds with a 4.2 per cent margin. He said he would not rule out the idea … (Gunn) ruled out stepping down to force a by-election in his seat of Stuart which, with a 0.4 per cent margin, is the most marginal Liberal seat in the state. Ms Penfold, whose vast Eyre Peninsula seat of Flinders is the safest Liberal seat in the state, said normally she would not support any moves for a by-election. “But this is such an important issue I will reserve my judgment,” she said.
Perhaps I’m underestimating the desire of locals to vent their fury about country health services, but this strikes me as foolish in the extreme. Sykesie in comments notes that the government released its draft Country Health Care Strategy just last week.