In a repeat of what happened in Victoria, but with a far greater element of farce and drama, Labor has seized power in South Australia after a dramatic day of horse-trading with former Liberal Peter Lewis. Crikey’s Adelaide correspondent Charles Kingston Cameron explain exactly what has happened and why.
Just listen to him ranting on here.
Now that you’ve picked yourself up from the floor, this is what Charles Kingston Cameron thinks about the amazing developments in SA:
South Australians now have a government we think after a day of high drama and low farce.
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Since counting closed last Saturday night, it looked as if South Australia would have a hung Parliament 23 Labor, 20 Liberal, two independent Liberal, one National and one independent. And ever since then, both parties have been wooing the crossbenchers.
National Karlene Maywald and independent Rory McEwen made it fairly clear from the start that they would not back Labor. It’s been a very different matter with for the two independent Liberals, Peter Lewis and Bob Such. Such, a minister under Dean Brown’s 1993-96 government but dumped when John Olsen became premier, quit the Liberal Party in 1999. Lewis, another Brown supporter and long term thorn in the party’s side was expelled the following year. Despite their background, neither of them have been definite votes for the Liberal Party.
It was said throughout the election campaign that Lewis had cut a deal with Labor to become Speaker in a hung Parliament. On election night, Brown was on the phone to Such, and negotiations with Lewis began soon after. Lewis held formal meetings Premier Rob Kerin and Labor leader Mike Rann on Tuesday. Talk that morning suggested he was backing the ALP. Later in the day Lewis said the guessing would soon be over when he said he hoped to announce his decision Wednesday afternoon.
Lewis presented the parties with requests for a number of parliamentary reforms in return for his support, along with a wish list of requests for his electorate. That afternoon he said both parties were being equally cooperative and offering him similar deals, so his decision would have to be based on other matters, including “the measure of stability”.
When Wednesday dawned, the rumour mill had a new tale. Talk now said that Lewis would back the Liberal Party, that extensive discussions with Dean Brown had turned him round. This seemed to be confirmed when Lewis held a late morning meeting with Brown at his ministerial offices.
With Lewis seemingly in the Liberal camp, Labor moved to Plan B, and announced that it would contest the result in the outback seat of Stuart, held by the Liberals by about 500 votes against a strong campaign, on the ground of electoral office irregularities.
Former Carr minder Bruce Hawker and a squad of New South Wales boys were behind the move. No doubt they remembered their own experience in 1995, when Labor failed to win a majority in its own right until it succeeded in a court ordered by-election in the seat of The Entrance.
The threat made, however, it looked as if nothing could sway Lewis. He called his press conference for 4pm and then failed to arrive.
The mood of the crowd was tense enough or ready but the tension leapt when it was discovered the reason Lewis hadn’t showed. He was in with Mike Rann.
When he fell out of favour with the Liberal Party, Lewis was sent into exile in a second floor office in Parliament just by the Opposition Leader’s suite. That may end up being a costly mistake. It’s not yet known if Lewis just dropped by or was invited in. Whatever the case, the visit seems to have changed South Australia’s political history.
Lewis stopped back by his own office, then finally arrived 70 minutes late and launched into a typically convoluted speech. He warned “my conservative values and beliefs cannot, and will not, be denied in this decision” but then dropped a huge hint with a mention of the party with the majority of primary votes and then went on to say “I nonetheless have given my support to the Labor Party”.
With that it was all over. The “stability” clue was suddenly made clear. Many South Australians would question just how stable Peter Lewis is, going by his past pronouncements and behaviour but it is undeniable that Labor, just short of government in its own right and needing just one more vote, will be able to provide more stable government to South Australia than a divided Liberal Party dependent on four other members.
The Liberal Party’s own behaviour in the hours since the decision has only reinforced this. Dean Brown not Rob Kerin lead the attack. He said Labor had put the frighteners on Lewis by challenging the Stuart result, then circulated an agreement he, Kerin and Lewis had signed saying Lewis would support a Liberal government. Despite the sensational announcement, everyone wants to know why he, rather than the Liberal leader, took this role.
It had already been speculated that Kerin would not remain for the full term, even as Premier. The thought that Brown might return as leader plus the entry into Parliament of the very capable Vickie Chapman, daughter of the man who engeineered the coup that saw Brown return to politics and take the Liberal leadership after seven years outside and already a Liberal Party president already has the factions stirring.
There is already talk that Joan Hall, the sole remaining member of the Hall, Ingerson Olsen triumvirate of disgraced ministers forced to resign late last year in Parliament who was optimistically pushing for a return to the frontbench if the Liberal formed government, will leave the Parliament.
Just to worsen matters, there has been speculation that Bob Such, who has not yet showed his hand, may also be happy to support Labor. Lewis said in his press conference that he had done no deal over the position of Speaker. Such who would fill the role much better may have.
As the evening’s final news bulletins were being put together, news came from the Liberal camp that they were considering referring the result in Lewis’ seat of Hammond to the Court of Disputed returns, on the grounds that Lewis mislead voters by saying he would not support Labor.
This just begs ones question. If the Liberal Party had not lied to voters in 1997 when it said it would not privatise the state’s electricity assets, where would it be now?
The chances are very, very good that it would contain two more members, Bob Such and Peter Lewis, that it might well contain or at least have more cordial relations with a Liberal Party member until he failed in a preselection bid, Rory McEwen, and about to form government in South Australia with the support of the state’s sole Nat.