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.

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