Hard Labor

Winning elections is hard labour. I know what it’s like to go through an election knowing that a massive defeat was almost predetermined. In December 1993, following the State Bank disaster, the SA Labor Government suffered the most crushing defeat with only 10 members left in a 47 member House of Assembly. We were known as the Kombi van Opposition. The commentators predicted we'd be out of office for a generation. When I became Labor Leader the following year, the commentariat claimed I'd be only an interim leader with one saying the next SA Premier was probably not even in parliament, and maybe hadn't been born yet! By the time of the next election, in 1997, Dean Brown was gone and the Liberal Government suffered a 9.4% swing; Labor more than doubled its numbers and John Olsen was left to lead a fractious minority government. Within another 4 years he was gone and Labor was back in power and then re-elected twice.

Anna Bligh was a good Premier. She was a forceful advocate for Queensland and her leadership during last year’s floods won national admiration. Anna was at first an ‘appointed Premier’ like John Brumby in Victoria and Alan Carpenter in WA. All three followed long and successful runs by Premiers who led Labor from Opposition into Government. But unlike John Brumby and Alan Carpenter (and others before like Barry Unsworth, Joan Kirner and Carmen Lawrence) Anna Bligh won re-election, in her case for an extraordinary fifth term for Queensland Labor. She also became Australia’s first elected female Premier. It amazed me on Sunday that a TV panel show featuring political reporters didn’t once mention that Queensland Labor was seeking an astonishing sixth term in office. Such was the jowel-shaking profundity of their analysis. With Labor dominating State and Territory politics for so long, it is inevitably now proving more difficult, but certainly not impossible to win elections. Since 2008, we have seen Labor lose in WA; forced into minority government in the Northern Territory and ACT; a 2009 win in Queensland; minority status both for the Feds and Tasmania in 2010; a surprise loss in Victoria later that year; a big loss in NSW in 2011 and a now a catastrophic defeat in Queensland. However, against this backdrop, South Australian Labor in 2010 won a third term with the net loss of only 2 seats from a record 2006 landslide victory. It was also a record majority for a third term Labor government in SA history. I am therefore bemused by commentary drawing analogies between what happened in Queensland on Saturday and the political situation here.

Whilst it is important for political parties to study and learn from every election win and defeat (as I have done, and this year is the 40th anniversary of my working on campaigns). Isobel Redmond would be unwise to count her chickens. What happens in one state in a particular election is seldom, if ever, directly transferable to another. SA Labor is not dead in the water now nor has it been, as polls have shown since mid-2011. It also doesn’t make sense to suggest that Labor here faced a Queensland like defeat in 2014 under my leadership when my Ministerial colleagues and the party’s factional bosses knew I was going to step aside in March 2012 to give my successor two clear years to win a fourth term for Labor in 2014, which I am confident will occur.

Mike Rann is Professorial Fellow in Social and Policy Studies at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia.

This Blog was published in the Flinders University blog on the Indaily website.