South Australia’s election got under way officially yesterday,
although the date of 18 March (the same as Tasmania) was already fixed.
The general expectation is that Labor premier Mike Rann will be
re-elected in a landslide victory.

The last election, in 2002, was hardly a triumph for Labor. It won only
36.3% of the primary vote (3.6% behind the Liberals), 49.1%
two-party-preferred, and 23 of the 47 seats – one short of a majority.
But the Liberals only won 20; there were three conservative
independents, plus one National Party member.

So Labor only needed one independent to help it form government – not
only did it do that, but eventually it got all of them. Peter Lewis
became speaker; Bob Such became deputy speaker and then speaker after
Lewis self-destructed; Rory McEwen joined the Labor ministry, and so
did the National Party’s Karlene Maywald.

As with Steve Bracks’s first term in Victoria, relying on independents
has no doubt helped to keep the Rann government moderate and
responsible. The opinion polls show it to be paying off; the most
recent Newspoll, taken late last year, puts Labor ahead 56%-44% in
two-party-preferred terms, a swing of 7%. On a uniform basis, that
would win Labor an additional seven seats, for an absolute majority of
13.

As it happens, there is a big gap on the Liberal side of the pendulum;
there are no seats with margins between 5.5% and 9%. So while one or
two rogue results either side of that gap are possible, one can be
reasonably confident that Labor’s gain will be close to seven seats:
Malcolm Mackerras, in yesterday’s Australian, is tipping six.

There will also be some interest in the fate of the independents. The
Liberals are expected to win back Peter Lewis’s seat of Hammond, just
as Labor will win Mitchell from its defector, Kris Hanna (who first
joined the Greens but is now an independent). McEwen and Maywald will
also face strong Liberal challenges but are expected to hold on, while
Bob Such’s seat of Fisher will be a three-way contest between him, the
Liberals and the ALP.

More detail on South Australia is available from William Bowe, the Poll
Bludger
, and from Antony
Green
at the ABC.

Peter Fray

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