Hillary’s usual column will be send around to subscribers tomorrow because the South Australian cliffhanger has given our Liberal insider plenty to write about.

There are two contenders. South Australian Labor Leader Mike Rann is either about to become premier or is at the end of his career. And the other? Well, it’s not Rob Kerin. It’s Dean Brown. The dull and dumped South Australian Liberal leader might do very well out of Saturday’s result.

While there are some uncertainties over the seats of Adelaide and Stuart, the outcome of the poll seems to rest at the moment on two seats Norwood and Hartley. Norwood was held by Labor by just 1.7 per cent but was not considered winnable by the Liberals. That’s looking like a very bad call. The Libs recorded swings against them in the two Labor seats they concentrated their efforts on, Mitchell and Elder, but performed strongly in Norwood. A few more resources and they may have won.

That’s important, because the current counting suggests that the Liberals have lost the neighbouring 0.9 per cent marginal seat of Hartley. If Norwood stays Labor and party picks up Hartley, that means Labor will have 24 seats enough to govern in its own right.

If Labor fails to pick up Hartley, their will be a hung Parliament, with Labor on 23, the Libs on 20, two independent Libs, one Nat and an independent and that’s where Dean Brown becomes important.

There is no coalition in South Australia, but the state’s sole Nat has voted with the Liberals on most issues and the independent is a former Lib who has tended to support his old party. If the two independent Liberals, Bob Such and Peter Lewis, can be bought on board, then Rob Kerin will remain premier.

It appears that Lewis and the Labor Party have had discussions over giving him the Speaker’s job but he and Such were both Brown supporters before they left Libs. Lewis is barking mad, but Brown may be able to prevent him from doing a deal with the ALP. Brown is said to have had discussions with Such on Saturday night about putting him in the Speakers job. If he can carry it off, he will have saved the government.

Brown became Deputy Premier in the shakeout that followed Buffy’s departure last year. It is understood that Such and Lewis will demand that he stay in the job if the Libs want their support. At the same time, the rumours first reported in the Crikey Sealed Section that Kerin will not stay Premier just won’t go away.

If the Libs manage to stay in government and if Brown continues as deputy, he would be well placed to return to the top job if Kerin resigns. If he is the only man who can tame Such and Lewis, he will be virtually unstoppable. Kerin will face a very tough task leading a minority government. It’s unlikely that a minority government will be able to last the full four years until the next election. A veteran like Brown could be better equipped to take the strain. It would be a fascinating return.

And the loser is

We don’t know who the winner of the South Australian election is but there’s no doubt about the loser. The Australian Democrats saw their vote more than halve.

South Australia is the virtual birthplace of the Democrats. When Don Chipp did his dummy spit, he had a new party ready and waiting in South Australia in the rump of the Liberal Movement, left bereft when its leader Steele Hall decided to the return to the Liberal Party.

South Australia was the first state to have two Democrat Senators. Four leaders of the party have come from the state. After the last election, when the party picked up over sixteen per cent of the vote and ended up with three Legislative Councillors and as the main rival to the Liberal Party in seats that should have been blue ribbon such as Heysen, Davenport and Waite, the Dems were euphoric. All that is gone.

In the past, the Dems have made smug remarks about applying the Trade Practices Act to political advertising. They must be glad it’s never happened. Even in this last campaign, state leader, Mike Elliott, was making grand predictions of that two more Democrats would be elected to the Upper House and that the party would pick up a swag of seats. Instead, their vote crashed to seven per cent.

And their response? No other party would even try it: “We peaked about 14.5 per cent [at the] end of August, and then a dive… I think around September 11 obviously, world events I think frighten some people, and while it mightn’t be a conscious thing, I think there is a bit of a fear of change right now That makes it hard for a party like the Democrats who are saying, ‘we’ve got to change a lot of stuff’.”

Oh yeah? And the death of Princess Margaret, the bungled NT murder investigation and the build up to the Winter Olympics probably knocked a few percentage points off the result as well. What a load of bollocks. No wonder the PM felt so relaxed and comfortable about putting the boot into Satan on the Sunday program with Laurie Oakes.

If Natasha was a good Hindu, she’d be committing suttee about now. Her party is dead and has been laid on the pyre. She might as well jump on the flames because if she doesn’t, someone will finish her off anyway.

PS Hillary hopes that all Crikey readers saw Kerry-Anne Walsh’s item in the Smelly “Could love cost Natasha her job?”. If you missed it, click here.

It might confirm that Hillary and the Mayne Man are not a pair of vindictive obsessives and the accuracy of material we broke more than a week earlier.

Silver tongued

Hillary hears that a group of Liberal Party booth workers were treated to a spontaneous display of wit from wordsmith Bob Ellis on Saturday.

When Labor leader Mike Rann turned up to vote near his inner-city Norwood home – much more handily located to the office than his northern suburbs electorate – with Ellis in tow, he was barracked by Liberal supporters.

The jester turned joke was quick with an eloquent riposte. “You’re a fucking disgrace”, he told one. “You’re a cunt”, he said to another. What a witty writer.

Politically promiscuous

Teenage Toecutter Chris Pyne turned up as a talking head on two TV channels’ coverage of the South Australian poll but seemed to want more. When he presented himself to one panel, a wag remarked “is he soliciting?”.

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected]

Peter Fray

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