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It’s now official that Jay Weatherill has pulled off the unlikely feat of retaining government in South Australia, following yesterday’s revelation that one of the two independents will be on sick leave for the next two months, and today’s announcement that the other will fall in behind Labor. As anticipated on election night, Labor has emerged with 23 seats in the 47-member House of Assembly, with the Liberals on 22 and the aforementioned independents retaining their seats in Fisher (Bob Such) and Frome (Geoff Brock). Bob Such’s health issues left the Liberals high and dry, as Labor would have commanded a majority on the floor regardless of whether the Speaker’s chair was filled by a Liberal or by Brock. Consequently, the alternatives facing Brock were a Labor minority government, or parliamentary deadlock and a fresh election. Much as opponents of Labor and/or minority government in general might complain that the latter is the preferable option, they have no reason to suppose the result of a second election would be any different from the first.

While Labor continues to govern for now, there will remain a considerable element of uncertainty until Bob Such makes his intentions known. Should he duly return after the currently prescribed two months, he might well conclude that today’s events amount to a fait accompli, and that he must throw his lot in with Labor for the sake of stability – quite apart from the indications that were emerging that he was disposed to do so anyway. Labor would nonetheless be left clinging to the barest of majorities, with the constant danger of being brought down by a by-election defeat or the defection of any member who might happen to feel aggrieved over a policy dispute or demotion.

Alternatively, Brock could decide that Such’s return marks the occasion to reconsider his position, and both might at that point throw their lot in with the Liberals. The difficulty here is the bareness of the resulting Liberal majority, and the constant need for the occupant of the Speaker’s chair to cast his or her vote in favour of the government, whether that Speaker be a Liberal or one of the two independents. The other prospect is that Such proves unable to return to parliament, requiring a by-election in his seat of Fisher. That would almost certainly be won by the Liberals, given the conservatism of the electorate and the likely absence of enthusiasm for a new independent. The Liberals would thereby gain parity of seats with Labor, and Brock would come under considerable pressure to change sides.

The question that would then arise is whether Labor’s defeat would entail a simple transfer of power to the Liberals, or the new election that much of the media is sure to be clamouring for. While the South Australian parliament theoretically has fixed terms, the constitution provides an escape clause, as fixed term regimes in parliamentary systems inevitably must. However, this is constitutionally murky in practice, with no precedent existing for its exercise in any of the Australian states and territories where fixed terms operate. The specific provision in South Australia simply provides that the Governor may dissolve the house if the government loses a confidence vote, which appears to envision him or her being advised to do so by the defeated Premier in circumstances where a new government cannot be formed. But if the independents were set on having the Liberals serve out the term, it isn’t clear that the Governor would consider that such a situation applied.

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45 comments

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Timothy Reichle
Guest

I think the problem the Liberals have is Labor are better campaigners in the marginals. That won’t change if you redraw the boundaries.

I believe they count Fisher and Frome twice. Once for Labor vs Liberals and once with the seat.

shiftaling
Guest

Quick question for those in the know – when they complain that the Liberal party didn’t win the majority of seats on 53% of the 2pp, how do they calculate the statewide 2pp? How does the result in seats like Fisher and Frome affect the statewide 2pp calculation?

Outsider
Guest
Carey and David. I understand what you’re both saying. I understand the range of factors the Boundaries Commission has to take into consideration. The point I should have made clearer is that after two consecutive “wrong” election results, the Commissioners may come under greater to place the fairness requirement above the others. I know the a liberal submission had its flaws and I had noted David’s point about the very odd splitting of Whyalla. The reason I posted the link is to show that boundaries can be redrawn in a way which would lead to an increased number of notional… Read more »
Independently Thinking
Guest
Independently Thinking

The Upper House result was a bit boring – just as predicted, and as the major AND minor parties wanted.

Rational Leftist
Guest
ECSA’s redistribution is unlikely to be too radical as the seat count is a bit more reflective of the total vote than it was last time. Also, the Liberal vote is very heavily concentrated in its “safe” territory, which makes it hard to work with. Most likely I see Newland being changed to a notionally Liberal seat. It is the most marginal seat and doesn’t require tricky tinkering (just chop off its western-most area and, if it needs extra territory, add to the eastern area.) Colton could also be made more Liberal by giving it West Beach, although the tinkering… Read more »
David Walsh
Guest

I doubt the ECSA would be anywhere near as aggressive as that Liberal submission.

Splitting Whyalla between Giles and Flinders is a blatant violation of community of interest principles. Normally the non-Labor side complains about massive electorates at redistribution time; but their proposed Giles must be 80-90% of the state!

Goydor’s encroachment into into suburban Adelaide is also dubious.

Outsider
Guest
Outsider
Guest

Got my link wrong… It’s funny anyway! Only in Whyalla….. Vote 1. Beer

Outsider
Guest
In the interests of fairness, here is a link to the Liberal Party’s 2012 submission to the redistribution commission: http://m.imgur.com/5jbp6V9 I hope that works! The submission would have led to 26 notional Liberal seats. Looking at the suggested boundary maps, the only one that looks particularly weird is that for Stuart. What would be interesting to know is how that would have translated to seats won based on 2014 results. Presumably it would have led to a Liberal majority government….. My bet is that at the next redistribution the Commission will embark on a much more radical adjustment to boundaries… Read more »
Independently Thinking
Guest
Independently Thinking

Best of luck to Dr Such.

Edi_Mahin
Guest

Bob Such’s office has released a statement saying that he has a brain tumor and will be seeking treatment for it. It was first suggested that he might have a brain tumor on the 21st of March, so after the election.

Independently Thinking
Guest
Independently Thinking

Wakefield

Donations, as you probably know, are not required to be declared for South Australian state elections so we will never know.

In South Australia, the Liberal Party play Russian roulette by putting 5 bullets in the gun and pulling the trigger.

Outsider
Guest
In light of Dr Such’s illness, the smart liberal strategy would have been to convince Brock not to show his hand at this stage, and encourage him to abstain from any motion of confidence on resumption of Parliament. This would have allowed Labor to form government (23/22 majority on the floor, with neither Such nor Brock voting) but with the opportunity for the independents to come to a final position once Dr Such had recovered from his illness, and potentially support a minority liberal government in 3 months time. This strategy would have been even smarter in a scenario where… Read more »
Wakefield
Guest

IT – any figures on donations in Light. My reading was that some at least of the massive splurge in the last 2 weeks came from the Roseworthy development/Hickenbotham camp?

Independently Thinking
Guest
Independently Thinking
Scott Light is a good example where the local Liberal branch’s main financial contributor became the candidate – twice. It mattered not that he was not highly regarded locally, nor that he was a noted poor campaigner from the first time. A Liberal insider told me on the weekend that they expected a fortnight out from the election that they could pick up as many as 14 seats so swung some extra resources into ‘middle’ seats such as Enfield & Whyalla where they thought they could pick up some bonus seats – but by the time their own polling indicated… Read more »
Wakefield
Guest

The Liberals have not been smart at all. They could have said that they have been working on forming a government and given the voting outcome they would be expecting Mr Brock and Mr Such to support them. They would continue to work towards forming a government. 4 years is a long time etc.

Interesting that Brock said the Libs had also offered him a Ministerial position. I wonder if they also offered to dump their Council rate capping suggestion and to support Mr Brock and Mr Such in future election campaigns.

Outsider
Guest

Yes Diogenes I agree that in the present circumstances Brock did not have much choice.

My comment was really about the Liberals reaction, which didn’t seem to me to be very smart, given the potential uncertainties over coming months.

However maybe the Libs know that Brock is now not for changing. This would explain their strategy yesterday. Focus their attack on Brock (so Frome returns to the Libs in 2014) and on the “illegitimacy” of the Labor government for the next 4 years. Couldn’t agree more that the SA Libs are just hopeless!!!

Diogenes
Guest

Outsider

Brock didn’t even have a choice. If he went with the Libs, there would have been a new election. If Such was around, the Libs could legitimately complained about the indies if they backed Labor but I really can’t see that Brock had any option.

The Libs are just hopeless.

Scott
Guest
I doubt very much Mr Brock will change allegiances, especially after being sworn in as a Minister and working with people. I suspect Jay has put together a solid deal for Mr Brock and the regions. The Liberal Party really need to learn to put up some decent candidates and some actual ideas. I take Light for example, solid local MP and Minister, running against the guy he beat last time. Surely the Liberal party could have found someone better? I wonder if it’s also to deal with State issues? Schools, Hospitals, Community Services are really not the Liberal’s strong… Read more »
Outsider
Guest
I was a little bemused by the reaction of the Liberals yesterday to Geoff Brock’s announcement. It would be very difficult, now, for Geoff Brock to support a minority Liberal Government in the future, regardless of Dr Such’s circumstances. It is now far more likely than not that SA Labor will serve another 4 year term in Government. I just wonder what the Liberal strategists were thinking. A measured, considered and sympathetic response could have left the door open, awaiting further news about Dr Such’s health issues and the possibility of a future by election in his seat. As it… Read more »
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