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  • Rikki Lambert

Malinauskas banishes Marshall Liberals to the wilderness

The South Australian Liberal government will be notorious in state history as a one-term government even shorter-lived than its last two-term iteration after Peter Malinauskas' Labor swept back to power on Saturday.

Whilst over 300,000 votes were cast early as opposed to an expected 1 million cast around the state on Saturday, it was Premier Marshall who predicted on Saturday the election would have a clear result on Saturday night. That immediately signalled that the Premier knew his side was on for a shellacking, for no sane Liberal believed their minority government could increase to win a majority.

Labor will govern with a clear majority of at least 3 seats with a total of 27, increasing their primary vote from 28.9 per cent in 2018 to over 40 per cent on Saturday. The absence of a strong campaign by SA Best - lacking their talisman Nick Xenophon - drew some voters back to the major party fold, the Liberals rising slightly from 32.2 to 34.6 per cent. As one independent candidate put it on Monday, someone had applied WD40 to voters' rust as they sought out independents with gusto, particularly in regional electorates.

Parliament looks likely to have a recent record number of independents, perhaps as much as eight, with Geoff Brock's switch to Stuart toppling deputy premier Dan Van Holst Pellekaan. Newcomer independent Lou Nicholson in Fleurieu-based Finniss looks to have shocked first-term primary industries minister David Basham, whilst ousted Liberals Dan Cregan in the Adelaide Hills seat of Kavel, the Yorke Peninsula's Fraser Ellis and Mount Gambier's Troy Bell were resoundingly returned. There remains an outside chance that long safe seats of Hammond, losing the Mallee and gaining areas near the Lower Lakes, might be won by independent Airlie Keen. On the Eyre Peninsula and West Coast, Wudinna's Liz Habermann on preferences in Flinders certainly will give would Sam Telfer, the Liberal seeking to replace retiree Peter Treloar, a sleepless night or two.

Mr Malinauskas was magnanimous in his victory speech, speaking of the importance of the Liberal Party in national politics and the great burden members of parliament and their families face with so many parliamentary colleagues losing their jobs:

"It is not lost on me the significance of the privilege and the size of the responsibility that you have invested in me and my team.
"It means that we've got a big job to do."

In his earlier concession speech, Mr Marshall said it had been an honour and privilege to serve the people of South Australia.

"It's great to live in a country where we have free and open elections.
"Today the people of South Australia have spoken. They've elected a new government."

Mr Marshall may face the ignominy of losing his own seat, a fate shared by last-ditch visitor to the battleground seat of Newland, former prime minister John Howard.

Counting continues with the Liberals at risk of losing once blue-chip metropolitan seats of Davenport, Gibson and Unley.

Just prior to Mr Malinauskas' victory speech, Labor MLC Clare Scriven - not herself up for re-election this term - admitted on Flow's live election night broadcast that the result was far better than Labor had hoped for. Whilst the analysis might take some time, Mrs Scriven conceded the role social conservatives upset over abortion and euthanasia law changes made in the Marshall Liberals' term may have played a role. Mr Marshall and several others that voted in a pro-choice fashion on those bills faced active campaigns and minor party candidates that preferenced against them in their seat.

Also speaking with Flow on election night, retiring Legislative Council president John Dawkins - expelled from the Liberal Party for rejecting their plans for colleague Jing Lee to take the presidency - noted that his membership reactivated on midnight Saturday.

The Hon Mr Dawkins said the wins by Nicholson in Finniss and Cregan in Kavel were no surprise to him but he was circumspect on where the Liberal Party's future lies from here. Several other Liberals Flow sought to speak with on the night did not answer their phones.

One shining light for the Liberal Party was Mackillop's Nick McBride, whose play mid-term to publicly muse becoming an independent, then securing a 'deal' with Mr Marshall on better consultation with regional MPs, appears to have gone down a treat with his electors.

The election result bodes poorly for Prime Minister Morrison, with a federal election imminent, and indicates that what Mr Marshall coined late in the campaign as 'pandemic fatigue' has set in. Marshall's is the first state government to lose since COVID-19 emerged, and comprehensively so as opposed to Western Australian and Tasmanian routs of their oppositions.

The SA Liberals clearly had concerns about Mr Morrison's poor opinion polls, with Mr Morrison's last visit to the electorate was 20 days before the election, whereas Labor opposition leader Anthony Albanese visited twice in the last fortnight. Voters struggle to delineate between federal and state politics when the same major party brands are contesting the election, but any attempt to blame the result on federal issues will not wash.

The Liberals will be searching for a Moses to lead them back from the political wilderness, as a result, this comprehensive will take several terms to overcome. Remnant Liberals such as water minister David Speirs and police minister Vincent Tarzia shape as potential opposition leaders, though Vickie Chapman remains in parliament and may put her name forward. No doubt, greenhorn electees such as Schubert's Ashton Hurn and potentially Flinders' Sam Telfer might make the case for a long-term plan for leadership - but Hurn's case may be stronger, being situated closer to metropolitan Adelaide in the Barossa Valley.

The recriminations within the Liberal Party will soon play out and the challenge will be to keep that disunity away from the public eye as the loss of now established independent MPs Bell, Ellis and Cregan played a substantial role in this crippling defeat.


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