SINCE 1982, SA Liberals have won the two-party vote at 8 of 10 state elections, but won two; many observers — me included — have long felt SA boundaries are rigged. SA is the Liberals’ biggest failure; now, the Electoral Districts Boundaries Commission has produced a redraw notionally giving the Liberals office on 2014 votes. Like a toddler in meltdown, Labor is off to the SA Supreme Court. The rort offers national insight into the rotten ALP mentality.
In any discussion of “gerrymanders” in South Australia, what many casual observers (and even some seasoned ones) overlook is the fact that it was a Liberal state government which, in 1968, abolished electoral malapportionment in SA and in so doing, redistributed itself out of office; even so, what Labor has perpetuated in the Croweater State in the name of being “fair” over the past 40 years has been anything but, and now the rort is ending, the ALP is screaming blue murder.
I am including articles today from The Australian and Adelaide’s Advertiser newspaper — the latter including more links to other relevant coverage — that readers can access here and here; but first, a little history.
Step back 50 years, and most Australian states had electoral boundaries that incorporated some kind of malapportionment; the thinking at the time — before reliable air travel and fast, safe road transport was as prevalent as it is today — was that rural MPs should be accommodated with smaller electorates to service than their city cousins, and this guiding principle meant that state elections (by their nature) gave the man on the land a vote that was more heavily weighted than the man about town.
It is also one of the reasons why some of the long-term state Premiers of the past — Tom Playford, Frank Nicklin, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, Henry Bolte — were conservatives representing country electorates; but the impact of this philosophy was not universal and was not consistent, as 24 years of ALP rule in more urban NSW between 1941 and 1965 shows by way of example.
As the state “gerrymanders” (which they were commonly called, despite more correctly being termed malapportionments) went, the SA boundaries were the heaviest in Australia, believed to weight country votes against city votes by a 6:1 margin; the example most commonly railed against by Labor (and which the ALP itself introduced, its latter-day declamations notwithstanding) and the one fine-tuned by Bjelke-Petersen in Queensland was also the least distorting, giving weight to rural votes at about 3:1.
The Queensland “zonal” boundaries also meant any party winning 50% of the vote after preferences would win power, which is exactly what Labor did when it won a majority of the two-party vote in 1989 for the first time since 1956.
It goes without saying that fair elections, conducted on the principle of “one vote, one value,” are absolutely imperative; I am no apologist for boundaries that are rigged in favour of conservatives, and have railed in this column against attempts to gain electoral advantage through fiddling with electoral apparatus by either side ever since I started it.
But after Steele Hall committed electoral suicide by redistributing himself out of office in South Australia in 1968, Labor — under the guise of “fairness” — legislated a special commission that would review that state’s boundaries after every election, and “adjust” them based on the most recent results to ensure that as closely as practicable, the party which won a majority of two-party votes at the next poll would win office.
In practice, this has meant that the Liberal Party — despite itself, and we’ll get back to that — has been almost completely locked out of office in SA since David Tonkin was beaten by John Bannon (with Labor scoring a minority of the vote) in 1982, save for the 1993 boilover in the wake of Labor’s State Bank disaster and a narrowly acquired second term four years later.
The effect of this has become more pronounced in recent years, with SA Liberals losing elections in 2010 and 2014 with well over 50% of the statewide vote: in 2014, the Liberal Party under Steven Marshall won more than 53%, and didn’t just lose, but lost convincingly.
Now — in a breath of fresh air — the Electoral Districts Boundaries Commission has finalised its redraw of boundaries ahead of the 2018 state election, which moves five seats on paper into the Liberals’ column and with them, makes an end to the most recent long-term Labor government in SA look likelier in 18 months’ time.
And Labor, having benefited from rigged boundaries for decades, is trying to raise merry hell about it.
In its “appraisal” of the latest redistribution, the ALP makes much of the fact that almost 400,000 voters (or almost one in three) are shifted into different electorates: hardly much of a surprise, given the distortions that have existed to this point, and which most recently gave Labor a majority win with a tick over 46% of the statewide vote.
It somehow seeks to claim that because the usually safe Liberal seat of Waite — held by turncoat and general piece of shit Martin Hamilton-Smith — returns to the Liberal column on paper, this is more evidence of a “biased” redraw. But Waite voters were sold down the river by Hamilton-Smith, who tossed principle overboard to jump into bed with the ALP and pocket a fat ministerial salary, and there is no obligation on the Commission’s part to somehow sanction this piece of bastardry just because it suits the Labor Party.
And the outrage Labor types seem to profess at the fact that some seats have been “flipped” on paper to the Liberals is fatuous, given the whole point of redistributions is to more equably apportion electorates based on the most recent electoral results, and if Labor now suggests that “notional” electorates should never emerge from a redistribution process it’s an indictment on its power-crazed entitlement mentality and an insight into the anti-democratic instincts that now underpin Australia’s oldest party.
The ALP has also made a lot of noise about the variable enrolments in the new seats, as good as declaring the new boundaries are rigged. But the Commission’s report clearly shows no electorate is above the 10% tolerance that is standard in Australia these days at all state and federal redistributions, and Labor’s bleating is no more than an attempt to smear and defame those who refuse to do its bidding: in this case a statutory government authority, which for once appears to have produced a fair outcome.
It should be emphasised that the SA Liberals — despite their lack of success at elections, which is in turn at least a partial consequence of past outcomes of the Commission — have in other respects been their own worst enemies, with bitter faction fighting and other divisive, self-destructive behaviour more entrenched and rampant in that division than anywhere else in the country; there is no guarantee at all the party will win the state election that is now less than 18 months away.
The Liberals retain a leader in Steven Marshall whose electoral appeal and ability to govern remain unclear, and they retain inside Parliament and out powerful factional players (such as Bragg MP Vicky Chapman, a perpetual target of this column) without whom they would well and truly be better off.
And the rising presence of Nick Xenophon’s NXT team, on its home turf, might well derail any prospect of a Liberal win altogether, as this left-leaning influence has at the federal level siphoned votes off the Liberal pile and disproportionately sent them on preferences to Labor.
But for all that, the changes in SA should be welcome: and are at least a decade overdue.
I don’t propose to discuss any issues that particularly apply to SA politics today, for the focus is the electoral system: it would, however, be remiss not to note the statewide blackouts that occurred there recently, and to note that for a party in office for 14 years (and for 25 of the past 34) Labor has nobody to blame but itself for anything SA voters are motivated to take up baseball bats over.
But the disturbing thing about these changes, and Labor’s reaction to them, is the pattern of anti-democratic thuggery it continues where the ALP’s approach to elections and government is concerned.
Federally, it is unable to accept it is in opposition, and uses the Senate not as an instrument of review, but as a battering ram to try to destroy the government.
In Queensland, it stealthily fiddled the electoral system, abolishing optional preferential voting (supported by at least the 60-70% of voters who no longer allocate preferences there) to give itself the best chance of harvesting Greens’ votes. In so doing, it abolished its own electoral fix, introduced when it ended the gerrymander in 1992.
In Victoria and Queensland, Labor sends out union officials at state elections masquerading as essential services workers, and in Victoria in 2014 even had “nurses” ring old and sick people to lie to them about what a Liberal state government would do if re-elected.
And where outright lying is concerned, the so-called “Mediscare” fracas during the recent federal election continues the theme of an ALP prepared to literally say anything to barge its way into the corridors of power, where patronage and influence can be handed out to union thugs and other filth that resides in the Labor tent.
In this sense, the ALP’s recourse to the South Australian Supreme Court should surprise nobody; it is the action of a sore loser, and one whose profit from a shabby rort has been allowed to go on for too long as it is.
My bet is that the Court will dismiss any challenge the ALP brings, although I don’t wish to pre-empt such a finding: it just seems so cut and dry as to be a frivolous and vexatious attempt to maintain advantage by legal intimidation and brutality.
And in this sense, there is a message for voters in every other state, and federally.
Next time you hear Bill Shorten, or any of the other parrot puppets the ALP sends out to address the media, talking about “fairness” and “equity,” what they are really talking about is their own self-interest and unfair advantage.
Labor is so concerned with fairness that it seeks to rig and rort the mechanics of elections to either keep itself in power forever, or destroy any government by someone else that voters have the nerve to install in its place.
Once again, what is going on in SA merely shows Labor is rotten to the core, and frankly, if SA voters needed an extra reason to throw the ALP out in 2018, Labor itself is handing it to them.
But even this is no guarantee, for the SA Liberals have repeatedly demonstrated the capacity to make themselves unelectable. For its trouble and its lack of real principle, SA Labor may yet prevail if the Liberals, once again, prove unable to get their shit together ahead of a state election at which they should be a lay-down misere.