The survivors of Saturday’s 7.4 per cent swing against the Labor Party, and especially against the party’s leadership, were meeting in the Plaza Room overlooking the languid River Torrens to vote… on the party leadership.
And the leadership won.
Premier Mike Rann’s personal approval rating is now below 50 per cent, and everyone who’s sat an exam knows bitterly that less than half marks is a fail.
And Labor got less than 50 per cent of the vote on Saturday. On primaries and two-party preferred, more people voted Liberal than Labor, but Labor won more than the 50 per cent of seats it needed to form government through the vagaries of electoral boundaries, and by using chicanery and fraud.
As Crikey reported on Monday, the ALP organised people, dressed in the traditional colours of Family First with T-shirts emblazoned “Put your FAMILY FIRST”, to hand out how-to-vote cards which preferenced Labor. Real Family First did not preference Labor; the how-to-vote cards were a Labor ruse.
“This is a terrible act of deception on behalf of the Labor Party,” Family First parliamentary leader Dennis Hood told me this morning. “It is deceptive, misleading and plainly shows nothing but contempt for the political process. Family First is considering legal advice.”
“It’s a corruption of process,” fumed Joe Scalzi, the losing Liberal candidate in one of the trageted seats.
The duplicity was designed to change the result in at least three key marginals, and so tight was this election that Labor needs them all. One sucupulous Labor backbencher, Chloe Fox in the seat of Bright, refused to sanction the ALP artifice. She wouldn’t let the imposters anywhere near her electorate booths, and her honour may cost her the seat – she’s just two votes ahead of her of her Liberal opponent with 86 per cent counted.
The Premier this morning defended it on the basis that it was “not illegal”. Veteran Flinders University political scientist Professor Dean Jaensch said it was the worst example he’d seen in a 40-year career. “It is deceptful, deliberately designed to mislead voters,” he said, “no doubt at all.”
A reading of the Electoral Act shows just how serious this is.
Section 113: “A person who authorises, causes or permits the publication of an electoral advertisement is guilty of an offence if the advertisement contains a statement purporting to be a statement of fact that is inaccurate and misleading to a material extent”.
The maximum penalty is $25,000.
However, the Act also says it is a defence if “the defendant took no part in determining the content of the advertisement or could not reasonably be expected to have known that the statement to which the charge relates was inaccurate and misleading”.
In other words, it is a defence to say you didn’t know the gun was loaded and could go off.
“This election was largely about trust,” Prof Jaensch said. “Now there’s more spin this early in the new term. It’s very sad.”
“After eight years I think we all know what to expect from the gang of usual suspects that runs our state,” Channel Nine political reporter Tom Richardson writes in The Independent Weekly. “That is, competent but uninspiring Government, plenty of spin and sneering vindictiveness towards those who dissent from the party line.”
Environment Minister Jay Weatherill smelt the breeze and on it the scent of carrion. The waft was of something rotten in the ALP – dirty tricks, corruption allegations, civil rights abuses, deals with developers, secret lobbying and personal scandals. Convinced that traditional Labor voters had turned most strongly against the ALP – the figures confirm that some of the largest swings against Labor were in seats held by the four most senior Rann ministers, including the premier himself — Weatherill bid for the deputy leadership.
The electorate wants change at the top, he said, and “change in the way we govern”. Weatherill is from the Left, having handled complex portfolios without undue controversy and with a much softer approach to social and environmental issues than his hard-line factional opponents on the Right.
Weatherill didn’t have as much to do with Labor’s collapse as did Rann and the current deputy, Kevin Foley, so by SA Caucus logic that excluded Weatherill from contention.
He lost, of course. By 13 to 20, Caucus voted to keep Foley in the job.
Weatherill shot his bow but he has more arrows in his quiver. By the latest Newspoll and by the two-party election result, Rann is no longer the preferred premier. Unless he lifts his rating his time is limited. Weatherill remains a serious alternative candidate, not so much for the position of deputy but as the deputy’s boss. We haven’t heard the last of Weatherill.
And we haven’t heard the last of Foley. Many an interesting story has been told about Foley, and here’s one you may not yet know – the story of his night out at New York’s A-lister nightclub, Whisky Blue, and the bill he sent taxpayers for his drinks there.
Quizzed about whether the public should reimburse him for alcohol in the glitzy nightspot to which they themselves weren’t invited, Foley justified it like this: “At the end of a dinner with my staff, having worked all day in New York, we had a couple of beers in the bar when we got back to the hotel.”
He put his hand in our pocket for a few beers after a hard day’s work for him and his hardworking team. What’s the problem? He himself would determine how much the taxpayer should pay for his drinks, he said at the time.
But lurking in the bowels of government is a paper trail, accessible under Freedom of Information. You just have to ask, which is what Liberal MP Rob Lucas did, and now the answer is on the record. What was Foley doing on the day he said he and his staff had been working all day in New York?
His official travel report, released under FOI, shows no work appointments on August 17, the date in question. None. Personal arrangements, says the official report. Could it be wrong? Well, look at the signature. K. Foley. The hand that signed the paper.
So this afternoon, Rann will be sworn in as Premier with Foley as his deputy.
From within their own ranks Labor MPs elected three backbenchers to replace the irascible Attorney-General, Michael Atkinson, the defeated Education Minister Jane Lomax-Smith and the National Party Minister Karlene Maywald, who served in Rann’s Cabinet. Long may we remember them, lest they forget.
“It’s time to change,” Weatherill said yesterday.
No it’s not, replied the Parliamentary Labor Party.
– Hendrik Gout is editor of Adelaide’s Independent Weekly.