It’s not difficult to see why both the Tasmanian and South Australian governments appear headed for big defeats in March. In South Australia’s case Mike Rann was re-elected in 2010 with 48% of the vote and ever since the good burghers of South Australia have told Newspoll that they want a change of government. Presumably the South Australian electorate is aggrieved that they didn’t get what they voted for four years ago and are now ready to dish out some punishment. The government’s problems are further compounded by the unpopular Don Farrell trying to muscle his way into the state legislature while Kate Ellis and Julia Gillard go about spruiking his cause. Yet for all this South Australia does not deserve to written off as a fait accompli like the Tasmanian election on the same day.
Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings seems to come from the Julia Gillard/Mark Arbib school of politics. On the day she announced the election she ended her parties’ alliance with the Greens and in doing so implicitly conceded that it had been an enormous mistake. No doubt she had some polling somewhere which said that distancing herself from the Greens would be a popular move but popularity and electability while related are not the same thing.
The greatest advantage a government has at an election is that they are the devil the voters know, the ground around them comes to represent competence and normalcy. It is the opposition who are unknown and could be seen to present a risk, governments will be seen to be tolerably competent by virtue of the fact that they have been doing the job already and the sky hasn’t fallen in. That is, they will be seen that way unless they expressly tell the voters that they haven’t been doing the job very well. So what does Premier Giddings do on the eve of an election? She announces that she’s made an enormous error of judgement and that it has been compromising the quality of her government for three years. The only chance of staving off a Liberal landslide in Tassie rests with the anomalous Palmer United Australia Party, scary though that sounds.
South Australia is different, Premier Jay Weatherill despite having only been in the job for eighteen months appears much more prepared to defend his governments decisions and record. His starring down of Don Farrell as the South Australian powerbroker attempted to force his way into parliament showed keen political instincts on his part.
In the best possible way Weatherill seems to be a man for all seasons, stoic in the face of his own adversity, sensitive in the face of others, intelligent yet still clear spoken. There is no farce or theatrics in his modus operandi unlike his colleagues in the Federal and Tasmanian Labor parties. This puts the onus back on South Australian opposition leader Steven Marshall, about whom I know absolutely nothing. Marshall doesn’t have the benefit of a Labor government in Canberra either, he is asking South Australians to choose wall to wall Liberal governments, that’s a big ask. If he campaigns in a reassuringly boring way like Barry O’farrell in 2011 or Ted Baillieu in 2010 he should win comfortably but if he gets a bit ideological, if he flags something radical during the campaign, if he makes a goose of himself at an important event then Jay Weatherill’s reassuring blandness might just keep the Liberals out for another four years.