Liberals weak in South Australia

27 February 2015

Despite the many successes of the Liberal Party of Australia since its formation in the 1940s, there have been many failures and near-misses as well.  Both federally and in some states, election wins have come frequently for the Liberal Party over time, but they’ve been far and few between in other places.  And it would seem that in the not-too-distant past, one of the Liberals’ weak spots has been South Australia.

Something is wrong with an established political party if it only wins three elections out of a possible twelve over four decades.  But since 1970 the South Australian Liberals have only won elections in 1979 and 1993 and 1997, and they’ve been in Opposition since 2002.

Going up against Labor Party leaders of the calibre of Don Dunstan and John Bannon and Mike Rann, each of whom served for many years as Premier, wouldn’t have helped the Liberals.  Dunstan was dominant during the 1970s, Bannon during the 1980s, and Rann during the first decade of this century.  Only after scandals during the latter years of the Bannon Government, including the collapse of the State Bank, did Labor unravel and ultimately spend much of the 1990s on the Opposition benches.

But even after winning office in 1993, the Liberals had problems in government, culminating in a leadership coup that ousted Dean Brown as Premier, three years after he’d led them to their first election win in over a decade.  After the coup against Brown, the Liberals lost their majority at the 1997 election, governing only with crossbench support.  The Liberals then narrowly lost office at the next election, in 2002.

Led by Rann, Labor won elections in 2006 and 2010.  But the 2010 win was a close result for Rann, and he resigned as Premier the following year, with Jay Weatherill taking over.  The state’s economy wasn’t in the best of shape in the years that followed, and by the time of the next election, in 2014, Labor looking like losing after twelve years in office.

But the Liberals haven’t been in good shape for years.  They’ve been through several leadership challenges and changes during the last decade, and by 2014, first-term MP Steven Marshall had become Liberal leader.  He seemed fresh, but voter disaffection with the Labor Government wasn’t really helping Marshall, and he narrowly lost the election, against expectations.

Worse has followed since that loss.  A Liberal MP defected to the crossbench, and is now a minister in the Weatherill Government.  Then Liberal-cum-Independent MP Bob Such passed away, and Labor narrowly won the by-election for his old seat.  This year, a by-election in a Liberal-held seat produced a swing to Labor, though the Liberals still won it.

The Liberals shouldn’t be in a position of having swings against them when Labor has been in office for so long.  This might be a sign of the Liberals’ weakness in South Australia.


Hatred of Moore set to worsen CBD gridlock

15 February 2015

The Liberal-National Coalition under Nick Greiner took power in New South Wales about three decades ago.  It was March 1988, and Greiner led the Coalition to victory for the first time since the 1970s.  Perhaps this time out of office made the Coalition’s win seem greater than it was – the Coalition won fifty-nine seats in the Lower House of Parliament but failed to win a majority in the Upper House, while the Labor Party won forty-three seats and Independents won seven, giving the Coalition a nine-seat majority in the Lower House.  Seven ministers were among the Labor casualties as twelve years of Labor government came to an end.

But on a sour note, Greiner lost one of his frontbenchers, Liberal MP Michael Yabsley, to Independent candidate Clover Moore in the inner Sydney seat of Bligh.  This wasn’t to be Moore’s only moment of peeving the Liberals.  In fact, Moore would go on to annoy both the Liberals and Labor, to the point where hatred of her is, probably by chance, set to worsen traffic gridlock in the central business district of Sydney.

Years after Moore’s defeat of Yabsley, Greiner also fell victim to Moore.  He’d governed well and seemed popular since winning the 1988 election.  But a surprise swing against him at the next election, in 1991, produced a hung parliament, and the Coalition Government could only govern with the support of Independent MPs, with Moore among them.  After this near-defeat, Greiner was accused of corruption, in trying to lure an Independent MP out of politics with a public service job.  A subsequent investigation by the Independent Commission Against Corruption found against Greiner, the man who’d actually established the Commission, and he had to resign as Premier.  Moore and other Independents could’ve tipped the Coalition out of office altogether if Greiner hadn’t gone.  The Coalition took many years to recover from his departure, lost office in 1995, and didn’t win another election until 2011.

After regaining office in 1995, Labor sacked two local councils covering the CBD of Sydney and merged them into a single council.  Locals saw this as an attempt by Labor to stack the council with people likely to approve major building projects proposed by money-hungry developers and the top end of town.  Sensing local hostility, Moore ran for the job of Lord Mayor of this new council, and she won.  She was therefore both a State MP and a local mayor, prompting accusations of conflicts of interest.  But locals didn’t mind her.  They saw the major parties as captive to the top end of town, and willing to develop the CBD to suit big business interests without consideration of local wishes, and they saw Moore as their “woman”, willing to stand up against the big guys.

As Lord Mayor, Moore was able to pursue an agenda of putting dedicated lanes for bicycles on streets both in the CBD and leading to it.  She’s also sought to run light rail down the CBD streets, and to turn streets into car-free zones.  Businesses hate the bike lanes in particular, as they take away parking spaces and kill off some of their daily trade, and they’ve been pushing to get rid of them where possible.  The Liberals share this hostility, although there’s been less hostility from Labor regarding both Moore and the bike lanes, because Labor policies on environmental issues are thought more likely to accommodate bike lanes and light rail.

The Liberals have sought to get Moore out of politics ever since the Coalition’s 2011 election win.  It legislated to stop MPs from serving on local councils at the same time, which meant that Moore had to leave Parliament after winning another term as Lord Mayor of Sydney City Council in 2012.  But local support for her and her ideas remained strong, and another Independent won her old parliamentary seat.

While wanting Moore out of politics, the Liberals realise that locals in inner Sydney like her and they can’t afford to upset them.  So the Coalition Government looks like leaving CBD bike lanes untouched, and seeking to run light rail through the CBD, just as Moore wants to do.  This is a case of playing “me too” – the game played before the 2007 Federal election, when Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd defeated Prime Minister John Howard only after saying that he’d continue most of Howard’s popular policies.

The Sydney CBD has too little space on its streets to accommodate light rail and bike lanes.  But it’s getting them.  Ideally, until there’s heavy rail running from the CBD to parts of Sydney where it doesn’t exist, people will keep driving to the CBD, and fewer vehicular traffic lanes will worsen the gridlock.  The CBD gridlock looks set to worsen because of a political agenda, which makes no sense.