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SA election 2014

Legislative Council

South Australia has a 22-member Legislative Council for which 11 members are chosen at each election to serve staggered terms at alternating elections. This state of affairs was instituted at the 1975 election, when statewide proportional representation replaced a single-member province system that had been heavily weighted to rural areas. The electoral system precisely replicates the Senate system in that voters choose between numbering every box below the line and choosing an above-the-line option in which preference order is chosen by the party, and has done so since a simpler system of fixed party lists was abolished in 1985. There are subtle differences from the Senate system in that registered parties are privileged over independents in the order they appear on the ballot paper, and independent groupings can choose three-word names with which to sell themselves.

After the unusual result of the 1975 election, when a conservative split caused two seats to go to the breakaway Liberal Movement, there were five successive elections at which the Democrats won one seat and the other ten were divided between the two major parties. The splits were five-all with Labor’s election wins in 1982, 1985 and 1989, and six-four in the Liberals’ favour when Labor was defeated in 1979 and 1993. This pattern was broken with a sharp rise in the minor party vote in 1997, with minor and micro-parties winning between two and four seats at each election since. Whereas the Liberals held half the seats in the chamber each time they held office over the relevant period, the current Labor government had only seven seats in its first term, followed by eight in its second and third.

The realignment of 1997 brought both an unprecedented second seat for the Australian Democrats and a surprise win for “No Pokies” candidate Nick Xenophon, who polled 2.9% of the primary vote and absorbed preferences from minor contenders including the nascent Greens. This put him ahead of the number four candidate for Labor, who in being limited to three seats suffered an even worse result than they managed off a lower share of the vote amid the 1993 election debacle. Xenophon achieved a stunning result when he faced re-election in 2006, polling a second quota with 20.5% of the statewide vote that elected his running mate Ann Bressington, and very nearly getting number three candidate John Darley over the line besides. This encouraged him to try his hand at federal politics, winning election to the Senate in 2007 and re-election in 2013.

Family First has won one seat at each of the three elections since 2002, while the seat that had traditionally gone to the Democrats passed to the Greens in 2006 and 2010. The capacity for micro-parties to win seats under a system of modest quotas and above-the-line preferences was again illustrated at the 2010 election, when Dignity for Disability surfed to victory off 1.2% of the primary vote.

The hurdle Labor will be hoping to clear is the 33.4% required to secure four quotas, with which they will have little help from preferences. Pre-election polling has consistently had them around 35%, but they can expect their upper house vote to be a few per cent lower. Should they fall short, their surplus could prove very helpful for the Greens, who have done considerably better from Labor preferences than vice-versa. Labor has three members seeking re-election, including the number three and four candidates from 2006, Russell Wortley and Ian Hunter, along with Kyam Maher, who filled the vacancy created in October 2012 by the resignation of the number two candidate from 2006, Bob Sneath. The number one candidate, Carmel Zollo, is not seeking another term.

At the head of Labor’s ticket this time is Russell Wortley, a former Transport Workers Union official with a power base in the Right. Wortley was elevated to cabinet in June 2011 as Industrial Relations Minister, filling the vacancy created by the untimely departure of factional and upper house colleague Bernard Finnigan. However, he resigned in January 2013 after Jay Weatherill made it clear to him he would not survive a looming reshuffle. Wortley is the husband of Dana Wortley, who served a term in the Senate from 2005 to 2011, then became state secretary of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, and is now running for the lower house seat of Torrens.

The second placed candidate is Ian Hunter, a Left faction member, former party state secretary, and the only openly gay member of the South Australian parliament. Hunter entered parliament at the 2006 election and won promotion to the ministry when Jay Weatherill assumed the leadership in October 2011, taking on the communities, social housing, disabilities, youth and volunteers portfolios. He was again promoted in the January 2013 reshuffle, taking on environment, water and the River Murray, and Aboriginal affairs, and further acquired emergency services and road safety when Michael O’Brien resigned from cabinet at the end of January as part of his abortive move to make his seat of Napier available to Don Farrell.

Number three goes to a newcomer in Tung Ngo, a Port Adelaide Enfield councillor, adviser to Health Minister Jack Snelling, and number five candidate on the party’s ticket at the 2010 election, as well as being a figure of influence in the Vietnamese community and the Right faction. This places him ahead of an incumbent in Kyam Maher, a Left faction member who served as the party’s state secretary before taking Bob Sneath’s seat in October 2012, for which he was preselected ahead of Simon Blewett, chief-of-staff to Jay Weatherill.

The Liberals advanced from three seats to four at the 2010 election, and will be hoping to go one better this time. A fifth quota requires 41.7% of the vote, whereas all published polls conducted in the year leading up to the election have had them between 44% and 46%. However, the question remains as to how much of their lower house vote will leak to minor parties and independents in the upper. In Xenophon-free races at the 2010 state and Senate elections, the Coalition vote was respectively 3.3% and 2.9% below that recorded for the lower house. The Liberals will pick up a handy share of preferences if the micro-party blocs drop out of the count, but the risk is that John Darley of the Nick Xenophon Team or, just maybe, Palmer United might poach enough conservative votes to win the seat instead.

The three Liberals elected at the 2006 election, Rob Lucas, John Dawkins and Michelle Lensink, are all seeking re-election, and in the same ballot paper order as last time. Rob Lucas‘s epic parliamentary career commenced at the 1982 election, and he served as Education Minister in the first term of the Brown-Olsen government from 1993 to 1997 and as Treasurer in the second Olsen-Kerin term from 1997 to 2002. He maintained the Treasury portfolio in opposition, despite being in the wrong chamber from his opposite number, and also served as Leader of the Opposition in the upper house. However, he was dumped from the front bench in April 2007 after supporting Right faction colleague Iain Evans in his losing bid to hold off a leadership challenge from Martin Hamilton-Smith, prompting him to stand aside as leader in the house. He returned to the front bench when Isobel Redmond became leader in July 2009, and secured a place in the streamlined eight-member shadow cabinet when Steven Marshall took over in February 2013, assuming the health, disabilities and community services portfolios.

John Dawkins entered parliament at the 1997 election and had to wait until April 2007 to win promotion to parliamentary secretary, after he backed Martin Hamilton-Smith’s successful challenge against Iain Evans. Further promotion came when Isobel Redmond succeeded Hamilton-Smith in July 2009, when he took the most junior position in shadow cabinet in the state infrastructure plans, regional development and northern suburbs portfolios. He was dropped after the 2010 election, briefly restored to parliamentary secretary in November 2012 after Hamilton-Smith’s unsuccessful challenge to Redmond’s leadership, then dropped again when Steven Marshall became leader the following February.

Michelle Lensink entered parliament in May 2003 when she filled a casual vacancy created by the retirement of Diana Laidlaw. A factional moderate, she was elevated to the shadow ministry when Martin Hamilton-Smith became leader in April 2007, holding environment and a shifting array of other portfolios along with the upper house deputy leadership from January 2008. Then in December 2011 she was dumped in what was widely interpreted as a power shift to the Right, to which then leader Isobel Redmond was increasingly beholden. When Steven Marshall replaced Redmond in February 2013, Lensink was placed in an outer ministry of four supplementing the shadow cabinet of eight, again taking on the environment portfolio. Her failure to win promotion on the Legislative Council ticket ahead of John Dawkins, a back-bencher and member for the Right, was described by an unnamed source in The Advertiser as “an unnecessary factional provocation”.

The promising fourth position on the Liberal ticket goes to Andrew McLachlan, a “financial director”, while number five goes to Nicola Centofanti, a Riverland veterinarian.

The Greens were not in contention for a second seat at their electoral high-water mark in 2010, so it seems safe to say the issue is whether they win one seat or zero. The former seems more likely, their base vote being not too far off a quota, and potential sources of preferences available in Labor, Dignity for Disability, Animal Justice and Stable Population. The lead candidate is incumbent Mark Parnell, who became the first Greens candidate to win election to the South Australian parliament at the 2006 election. Parnell is married to Penny Wright, who won a Senate seat for the Greens at the 2010 federal election. Second on the Greens ticket is Ruth Beach, a “lawyer, environmental defender and community advocate”. Not up for re-election is the second Greens MLC, Tammy Franks, who was elected in 2010.

The Family First incumbent facing re-election is Dennis Hood, a former Johnson & Johnson pharmaceuticals executive who won a seat for the party in 2006. This made him the party’s second member after the breakthrough victory in 2002 of Andrew Evans, Assemblies of God pastor at the Paradise Community Church. Evans retired in July 2008 and his vacancy was filled by Robert Brokenshire, a former minister in the Olsen-Kerin Liberal government and member for the lower house seat of Mawson, who was re-elected in 2010. Family First polled 4.1% in 2002, 5.0% in 2006 and 4.4% in 2010, making it to a quota on the latter occasion with preferences from smaller right-wing players, chiefly the Democratic Labor Party, Shooters & Fishers, One Nation and the Fishing & Lifestyle Party. This time they can hope to do the same from Palmer United, Katter’s Australian Party, the Nationals and Fishing & Lifestyle again. Alternatively, they might be able to absorb a Liberal surplus, assuming a point arrives when there are no Liberal candidates left in the count. The danger for them is if the Liberals make it to five quotas with little surplus to spare, and Family First when combined with their preference providers don’t quite amount to a quota.

Nick Xenophon’s triumph in 2006 elected both himself and Ann Bressington, neither of whom is defending their seat this time around. The vacancy created by Xenophon’s move to the Senate in mid-2008 was filled by John Darley, a former Valuer-General who ran as the number three candidate on the Xenophon ticket in 2006 at the age of 68, having reassured his wife that he had no chance of winning. Bressington had a public falling out with Xenophon shortly before his run for the Senate in November 2007, and joined Katter’s Australian Party in October 2013 in a move that facilitated the South Australian party’s registration. However, she is not contesting the election.

It is difficult to predict how Darley will perform, as he is in the unusual position of defending a seat that was won for him by somebody else. The last time a Xenophon ticket was fielded in which Xenophon himself was not a candidate was at the 2002 election, when what was then the “No Pokies” ticket polled only 1.3% (no candidates were fielded in 2010). It remains to be seen what difference a defending sitting member makes, and whether how much it might matter that the member turns 77 in May and is seeking election to an eight-year term. It does not help that the Xenophon ticket is marooned as “Group T” on a ballot paper that runs as far as Group X, making it the victim of legislation passed during the current term which puts registered party tickets ahead of independent and other non-registered groupings.

The Xenophon team has as usual done poorly on preferences – Katter’s Australian Party and Shooters & Fishers have them behind both major parties, while Palmer United, Animal Justice and the Australian Fishing and Lifestyle Party apparently thinking them the worst of all available options. They have at least been favoured over the major parties by the Greens and Dignity for Disability, and will get Family First preferences if it comes down a fight with a fourth Labor candidate.

Esther Simbi, a social worker with post-polio syndrome who arrived in Australia from Sudan as a refugee, is looking to join Kelly Vincent as Dignity for Disability’s second member of parliament. Vincent was elected at the 2010 election at the age of 21 off the back of 1.2% of the primary vote, from which she emerged ahead of the other main micro-party contender, Fair Land Tax, after absorbing 2.7% of the vote from 15 different sources. The unlocking of the Fair Land Tax preference package added a further 2.2% to Vincent’s vote, pushing her ahead of the fifth Labor candidate at the last exclusion. The distribution of Labor preferences then secured victory for Vincent over the fifth Liberal candidate. One difficulty in a repeat of this scenario is that in 2010 the party inherited what remained of the Australian Democrats vote, including both the 0.9% vote for the Democrats and the 0.6% polled by Democrats-turned-independents incumbent David Winderlich. Absent that advantage, the party will find it a lot tougher emerging at the head of the micro-party pack.

Others: The Palmer United Party is not registered in South Australia, and has preferred to focus its energies on the Tasmanian campaign. Nonetheless, an “Independent Palmer United” ticket appears on the ballot paper headed by Chandy Huynh, a businesswoman of Chinese-Vietnamese extraction and the party’s candidate for Port Adelaide at the federal election.

The other main contenders in roughly descending order of likely primary vote are the Liberal Democratic Party (3.5% Senate vote in 2013), Shooters & Fishers (consistently around 0.7%), Fair Land Tax (0.6% state upper house vote in 2010), Animal Justice (0.6% Senate vote in 2013), FREE Australian (0.4% state upper house vote in 2010), the Nationals (consistently around 0.3% to 0.4%), Australian Fishing & Lifestyle Party (0.3% Senate vote in 2013), Legal Voluntary Euthanasia (0.3% Senate vote for a similar grouping in 2013) and Katter’s Australian Party (0.2% Senate vote in 2013).

A collective unknown quantity is independent candidate Joseph Masika, a Tanzanian-born South Australian Multicultural and Ethnic Affairs commissioner and Order of Australia recipient, and the Multicultural Party, who are effectively exchanging preferences. Another minor candidate with a public profile is Mark Henley, an advocate for Uniting Care Australia and former executive director for the South Australian Council of Social Service, who heads the “Independent Powerful Communities” ticket.

Corrections, complaints and feedback to William Bowe at pollbludger-at-bigpond-dot-com. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.

Back to Crikey’s South Australian election guide

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