16 October 2017
The Liberal Party hasn’t won a general election in South Australia in twenty years. You have to go back to this time in late 1997 to find the last Liberal election win in that state.
Even then, that 1997 win only came with crossbench support, as the election result was a deadlock. The Liberals, having won office outright four years earlier, in December 1993, ended up losing their majority in 1997. Crossbenchers finished up with the balance of power, and the Liberals managed to survive.
Dean Brown led the Liberals to victory in 1993. This was in fact their first election win since 1979, as they’d gone on to lose office at an election in 1982.
But the Liberals in SA have been in a state of virtual civil war for decades. Even winning office in 1993 wasn’t enough to keep their internal battles in check, let alone bring them to an end. As a result, Brown was suddenly dumped in a leadership coup in 1996. Not even the prestige of being Premier saved him. The coup saw John Olsen become Liberal leader and Premier.
Olsen would go on to lead the Liberals to their near-defeat at the 1997 election. He resigned in late 2001 as a result of a scandal, and Rob Kerin succeeded him.
The next election in SA came in early 2002, by which time Kerin had been Premier for only a matter of months. Ironically, that 2002 election produced another deadlock, but this time Kerin was unable to get crossbench support to continue governing, and the Labor Party, led by Mike Rann, took power.
Kerin remained Liberal leader after that 2002 loss. He led the Liberals to a big defeat at the next election, in 2006, with Labor obtaining a clear majority. Labor held on with a smaller majority after the next election, in 2010.
By then, Kerin was gone. He’d quit Parliament after his 2006 election defeat, triggering a by-election in his old seat of Frome, to the north of Adelaide. Winning that by-election was Independent candidate Geoff Brock.
Having taken power with crossbench support in 2002, Labor had outright election wins in both 2006 and 2010. But of course, the years of governing took their toll. When the next election came in March 2014, the result was another deadlock, with Labor losing its majority. By then, Rann had departed as Labor leader and Premier, and Jay Weatherill had succeeded him.
This election left the balance of power in the hands of two Independents – one of whom was Brock, the Independent in what would’ve otherwise been a safe Liberal seat. Having been just a mere MP for years, Brock suddenly found himself in the spotlight.
The other Independent holding the balance of power along with Brock was Bob Such, a former Liberal from suburban Adelaide.
But this situation didn’t last long. Shortly after the election, with the results still yet to be declared, Such fell ill. The onus was now on Brock to support one side or the other.
Probably because of Labor having fallen a seat short of a majority, Brock chose to give his support to Labor. As a result, Labor narrowly survived.
But it didn’t end there. Weatherill saw fit to offer Brock a place in his ministry, which Brock accepted. Not long after, a Liberal MP defected to the crossbench, and also went into Weatherill’s ministry.
This might’ve surprised many people. But Weatherill’s predecessor, Rann, had done the same thing during his first term in office, when Labor didn’t have the numbers to govern alone. Rann saw fit to offer places in his ministry to non-Labor MPs after taking office, and even after his big election in 2006 made him no longer reliant on the non-Labor MPs serving in his ministry, he kept them on. To have dumped them, because of no longer needing them, wouldn’t have been a good look. Undoubtedly Weatherill would’ve noted Rann’s actions before he offered ministerial places to non-Labor MPs in 2014.
As a footnote, Such died shortly after falling ill in the aftermath of that 2014 election, and Labor narrowly won a by-election for his old seat. Labor hadn’t held that particular seat, Fisher, since 1989, when Such had won it, as a Liberal candidate, before later falling out with the Liberals.
Since then, age and other problems have worn the Labor Government down. The most obvious problems relate to electricity and power shortages, including when a massive storm caused a massive blackout across the state around this time last year. You’d think that Labor should lose the next election, which comes next March, but with the Liberals failing to really inspire voters, doubts still linger.
As for Brock, he’ll probably face a nasty battle in his seat. The Liberals have consistently run vicious election campaigns against Independents who’ve sided with Labor after ending up with the balance of power in various parliaments around the country. With Brock holding what’d otherwise be a safe Liberal seat, the Liberals will probably try to paint him as a “Labor Independent”, dishonest though that is.
Independents don’t back governments of the wrong “colour” lightly. I’ve seen them do so in the past, and sometimes they’ve survived, though not always.
The next election in SA will almost certainly include a nasty battle which awaits Brock in his seat. The challenge for him to withstand such nastiness will test him greatly.