The South Australian election: a personal view
South Australia has an election on 20 March. But I’m finding it hard to detect any election excitement anywhere about the place. Candidates’ posters are up on all the stobie poles, including some mightily offensive ones from the local anti-choice crowd, and bumf is starting to pour through my letter box, but no one seems to be talking about the election. South Australians posting on Larvatus Prodeo have declared the election boring, as have some of my articulate, well-informed colleagues, and there’s not a word about it in the after-school chatter as parents collect their children. It’s all very, very dull.
In order to inject a little interest in what will otherwise be a very dull post, I’m going to make a call right now on which way the election will go. You should bear in mind that I am a new Australian (‘though due to a previous stint living here I have citizenship, and so will be voting on March 20), and I have never voted in an Australian election before, and ‘though I know how to cast my single transferable vote, I don’t understand the mathematical intricacies of the flow of preferences. Furthermore I don’t really get the nuances of opinion here in South Australia yet.
That boredom and dullness? I think it’s an indicator that incumbency will win. Although there are plenty of localised issues in the state, on balance, things are going along pretty well here. Unemployment is low, mining income is holding up, the festival season is in full swing, the summer has been pleasant, life is looking good. And when things are good, why change the government? So tonight, just under three weeks out, I’m calling it for Mike Rann and Labor.
I could be wrong.
Things could yet go badly for Media Mike. His blonde former friend, Michelle Chantelois, keeps on popping up like David Bowie’s Laughing Gnome, the threat of her presence always there. For those who don’t know, late last year, Rann was attacked by a man wielding a rolled up magazine. A few days later, it turned out that the man was angry about Rann’s relationship with his then wife, Michelle Chantelois. Rann denied that there was any sexual relationship, ‘though he admitted to a flirty relationship. Whatever, really, except that Chantelois is now playing the woman rejected. She has popped up here, there and everywhere, including with a lie-detector test that she claims proves that her relationship with Rann was more than just flirty. When last seen, she was draped over the front page of The Advertiser, and she has promised to dog Rann throughout the campaign. I’m not sure what her game is. Rann says he is going to ignore her, and Liberal leader Isobel Redmond has instructed her team to do the same. However, I suppose if some more details or corroborating evidence came out, then this alleged affair could upset the campaign. In the meantime, I think that everyone is just a little bored by it.
Then there’s the local issues, like the proposed sale of some of the Glenside Hospital site, and the sale of the Chelsea cinema, and a proposed landswap at St Clair. Never heard of any of them? Just so – they’re all very local issues, and I don’t think they’re going to swing the election either way. Sure, some people are upset and angry about some of the proposed changes, but it’s hard to see seats changing hands as a result of them. For everyone who opposes one of these changes, there will be someone who supports it, with the possible exception of the St Clair landswap. They are no doubt deeply fascinating to the people who are running the campaigns to save this, that and the other thing, but distinctly tedious for everyone else. The biggest proposal of all is to shift the Royal Adelaide Hospital from its current site at the eastern end of North Terrace, to the old railway yards at the western end of South Terrace. Of course, some people want to save the whales, I mean the trees, no, no, the Royal Adelaide Hospital, but again, this seems to be a matter for specialised interest groups, and most people really don’t care all that much.
The biggest issue of all might be water. We want some. Now. And so far, the Rann government hasn’t delivered all that well. Any national solution for the Murray is years away, despite Rann’s great friendship with Kevin Rudd. Patience with water restrictions boiled away during a comparatively wet winter, when reservoirs filled up, and Adelaideans who were restricted to just three hours of watering a week were treated to the sight of ‘excess’ water rushing down spillways and out to sea. About 50% of respondents to an Advertiser on-line poll admitted that they regularly broke the watering restrictions, and eventually, the government relented. Now we’re allowed to water for five hours every week. But it’s still a huge issue. Walking around the streets, talking to my neighbours and friends and other after-school dads and mums, I have found that many people admit to breaking the restrictions, and say that they’ve simply had enough of them. That’s an interesting shift in opinion; when I first moved to Adelaide at the start of 2008, people were very serious about saving water. Now, well, they water. And part of the reason that they use water, defiantly, is that it’s one way of sending a loud and clear signal to the government that they expect government to solve the problem, not just impose more restrictions. Watering your garden has become a political act.
Rann’s government is on the way to solving the problem for Adelaide gardeners, with a desalination plant. Although we’ve had a dry summer, it has not been a baking hot one, so water has not been quite as critical an issue as it might have been. Next time round, if the water problems have not been solved, then the government might be on its way out, but not yet.
The campaign might get interesting on Wednesday, with the leaders’ debate. It could be a tricky affair for both major party leaders. Isobel Redmond took over as Liberal leader when Martin Hamilton-Smith self-destructed over a bizarre set of fabricated documents. She’s mixed it well with the bovver boys on Labor’s front bench, and they seem to be running scared of her. She’s a straight speaker, direct and common-sensical in her approach, a version of Tony Abbott without the petty moralising. However, I have yet to see a big idea from the Liberals, a plan for the state that matches Rann’s success over the past two terms. When Rann took over, the state was in genteel decay. He has reversed that sentiment, and there’s a buzz about town that was not here when I lived in SA for a few months in 1998 and 1999. Ms Redmond has been critical of Labor and Rann, but I have seen no plans from her, other than large spending promises. The criticism could easily become carping. For his part, Rann could be seen as a bully boy, if he attacks Redmond too personally. And there have been some suggestions that he’s rather bored with the whole election too.
The fact is, Rann has been an excellent Premier. South Australia has done well under Labor in the past eight years. Isobel Redmond is doing a good job as a new opposition leader, but even though the Liberals are trying to plant the idea that it’s time for a change, when people have jobs and money in their pockets, a change of government is unlikely. If it’s the economy, then Rann wins. I don’t think the local matters are enough to topple him, and the big problems are under control. The wild card will be the laughing gnome, and that may not even get played.
Really, the election is a dull affair. Have a little Bowie to lighten things up.