Labor power pause ended by Bannon

31 January 2016


Plenty of memories would’ve been jolted among dedicated voters of the Labor Party, once described as the “true believers”, after the death late last year of John Bannon, who was Premier of South Australia from 1982 to 1992.  Bannon was among several State Labor leaders to win office around Australia just before Bob Hawke led Labor to a Federal election win in 1983, and they were later considered the upholders of a great Labor era, as well as the ones to bury bad memories after the end of the Whitlam Government in 1975.

Bannon led Labor to victory in SA after a single term out of office in late 1982.  He’d go on to win elections in 1985 and 1989, before a series of scandals, including the collapse of a major bank, triggered his departure.

In the year before Hawke was elected Prime Minister, Labor had won office in Victoria and SA, with John Cain being elected Premier of Victoria ahead of Bannon in SA, although between these triumphs Labor lost office in Tasmania after years in power.  Then Brian Burke led Labor to victory in Western Australia shortly before Hawke’s triumph.  Cain governed until 1990 and Burke governed until 1988, so Bannon outlasted both of them.  In the meantime, another Labor leader, Neville Wran, had been Premier of New South Wales for years before Cain, Bannon, Burke, and Hawke came to power.

But in a broader context, Bannon’s triumph was probably less grand than it seemed.  His win in 1982 came after Labor had lost office in 1979, and before that Labor hadn’t lost a state election in SA since 1968.  After 1982, Labor governed in SA until losing office in 1993, and nearly regained office in 1997, before regaining office in 2002.

SA has been strong for Labor for some time.  Going back 50 years to 1966, Labor had been governing only since the previous year, when it won an election – before then, it hadn’t governed in SA for many decades.  The Labor record here from 1966 was an election defeat in 1968, an election victory in 1970, defeat in 1979, victory in 1982, defeat in 1993, and victory in 2002, since which it’s remained in office despite a few near-misses at elections.  With Labor’s 1970 and 1982 wins following defeats in the elections immediately before them, and a near-miss in 1997 following defeat in 1993, the 1982 win might seem more like a Labor power pause, if I could put it like that, ended by Bannon.

Having strong leaders like Bannon would’ve helped Labor in SA.  Before Bannon, Don Dunstan was Premier for many years, and after Bannon it was Mike Rann who had a long stint as Premier.  Without them, Labor wasn’t as strong, and lost office after both Dunstan and then Bannon left.  After Rann left, new Labor leader and Premier Jay Weatherill narrowly held on to win an election in 2014, despite being expected to lose.

At the same time, a lack of strong opponents also would’ve helped Labor.  Until the defeat of the Coalition Government in Victoria in 2014, the Labor Government in Tasmania in 1992 was the last to lose office after a single term, and before that it was the Liberal Government in SA in 1982 to meet this fate, although the Liberal Government in SA in 1997 came close to meeting this fate as well.  After the 2014 election in SA, I spoke to a guy who was once a Liberal MP – he described the Liberal Party in SA as a basket case.

In terms of how strong SA has been for Labor since 1966, it’s worth noting that SA has been Labor’s strongest state.  Labor has governed there for a total of about 36 of those past 50 years.  In that same period Labor has governed for a total of about 32 years in Tasmania, 28 in NSW, 23 in Victoria, 22 in Queensland, and 21 in WA.

In 1966 there weren’t governments in either the Northern Territory or the Australian Capital Territory.  They didn’t come until the 1970s in the former and the late 1980s in the latter.  Labor’s total time in office has been 11 years in the Northern Territory, and about 19 years in the ACT.

The death of Bannon late last year would’ve left many Labor people remembering better days.  More such memories will stir when other successful Labor leaders have passed on.



Big states developing electoral hit lists

17 January 2016


Hardly any Australian needs reminding that a Federal election will happen during the course of this year.  Based on the results of the last election, in 2013, it looks like the Australian Labor Party needs a swing of about 4.3 per cent to defeat the Liberal-National Coalition Government.  But the size of the needed swing could potentially change, depending on how electoral redistributions pan out in a few states.

A redistribution means a redrawing of boundaries of electorates within a given state or territory, to reflect population changes.  Naturally, the population grows in some areas and declines in others over time.  Therefore, a redistribution is necessary to give each electorate, or parliamentary seat, as near as possible to the same number of voters.  These redistributions usually happen every 5-10 years or so, but not necessarily in every state or territory at the same time.

Since the 2013 election, electoral redistributions have occurred in a few states, as well as in the Australian Capital Territory.  At the moment, these are yet to be finalised, but it looks as though the number of seats in New South Wales will fall from 48 to 47, and the number in Western Australia will rise from 15 to 16.

The redistribution in NSW looks like including a new seat named after the late Gough Whitlam, who was Prime Minister in the 1970s.  Seats are duly created for every former PM after death, when the opportunity arises.  This honour has yet to come for Whitlam, who died in late 2014.  And it’ll come in due course for another former PM, Malcolm Fraser, who died only a few months after Whitlam died.  These honours will be in NSW for Whitlam and Victoria for Fraser, because their seats were in those respective states.

These honours won’t apply to their successors until after they’ve passed away.  This is why there aren’t yet seats named after Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, John Howard, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, or Tony Abbott.  But they’ll come in due course.  I note that Hawke and Gillard held seats in Victoria, Rudd held a seat in Queensland, and the rest were in NSW.

However, the hard part for future electoral redistributions might be the question of which seats should be abolished, especially after any former PM passes away.  This is certainly the case in NSW, which has seen its number of seats fall from 51 a few decades ago to 48 now, due to population shifts over time.  If the voting population in NSW shifts to the point where the number of seats has to fall, there might be arguments over which seats to abolish.  Victoria might have a similar problem, as its number of seats has fallen from 39 to 37 over the last few decades.

Most seats in Federal Parliament, specifically in the House of Representatives, are named after significant people or localities.  Mind you, I’m not sure how many Australians know what made famous most of the individuals after whom seats are named.

When electoral redistributions happen, efforts are usually made to preserve seats which have existed since 1901, when Parliament first opened.  They’re also made to preserve any seat named after a former PM.

NSW has many seats set to be preserved in any future redistribution for the reasons noted above.  Existing continuously since 1901 are Cowper, Eden-Monaro, Hume, Hunter, Macquarie, New England, Newcastle, North Sydney, Parramatta, Richmond, Robertson, Wentworth, and Werriwa.  The seats of Barton, Chifley, Hughes, McMahon, Page, Reid, and Watson are named after men who served as PM.  There are 20 seats in all.  I’d add the seats of Riverina and Cook to this tally – Riverina was created in 1901 and abolished in 1984 and restored in some form in 1993, but during its non-existence there was a seat named Riverina-Darling, and indeed MP Noel Hicks held Riverina when it was abolished before holding Riverina-Darling and then Riverina again, while Cook is actually named after a great explorer whose surname is shared with a former PM.

The other seats are named after artists, explorers, pioneers, writers, or other people of note.  There are also some seats named after localities.  In due course, some of these seats will have to be abolished.  But there’ll be some public resistance to their abolition.

I remember a campaign against the abolition of the rural seat of Gwydir ahead of an election in 2007, as Gwydir had existed since 1901, but it had experienced significant population decline.  I also remember some resistance to the abolition of the suburban seat of Lowe, named after an individual, ahead of an election in 2010.  Both seats were ultimately abolished, but some people remained attached to them.

There might be a chance of the big states developing electoral hit lists, as some seats will be abolished amid population shifts.  From time to time, such seats simply have to go.