A Thank You

I have received a number of approaches from the media in recent days, requesting interviews on the anniversary of my stepping down as Premier on October 21 last year. I have declined because I do not think it is fair to my successor, Jay Weatherill, or his Ministers for me to be involved in commentary on SA Government affairs, let alone daily local political issues. My predecessors afforded me the same courtesy during my 17 years as SA Labor leader.

On November 1 I become a Commonwealth Public Servant and from then on I cannot comment on partisan matters.  However, Sasha and I wanted to take this opportunity before I begin my new career simply to say 'thank you'.  The past year has been both difficult and busy, dominated by the discovery last November of Sasha's breast and lymphatic cancer, her tests, surgery, and the long months of chemotherapy and radiotherapy that followed.  We are immensely grateful to her surgeon Melissa, her oncologist Trevor, her doctor Megan, oncology nurses Jane and Lisa, other dedicated professionals and wonderful friends and family, who have helped Sasha in her recovery.  So many decent South Australians that we do not personally know have also been giving and sending their best wishes.  Many had faced and prevailed against similar challenges.  We thank them for their kindness which meant a great deal to Sasha and to me.  I am very proud of Sasha's positive, indomitable spirit and her good humour, even during the trials of chemotherapy.  She never missed a day's work at her job at Anglicare and kept going to the gym at 6.30am every day during chemo. She is now doing things to help the breast cancer cause and encourage women to be vigilant about tests and checks.  We are looking forward to attending the 2012 Pinkyellowblueball at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre on October 27.  This spectacular cabaret will raise funds for cancer research at the new Flinders Centre for Innovation in Cancer.

For me, I have greatly enjoyed my work with Flinders University.  It has been terrific working with students and with a dedicated team of professional colleagues who realIy care about their students.  I thank them for their support.  The same is true at Auckland University's Political Studies Department, where I was a student in the 1970s.  I have also enjoyed my sessions with inspiring international students in public policy at Carnegie Mellon's Victoria Square campus and working with the Center for National Policy in Washington.  During the year I have also lectured at Sydney University, ANU, and the Australian and New Zealand School of Government.

I have been working with David Cappo on a book on social policy and the nearly ten years work of the Social Inclusion Initiative, in areas such as turning around the school retention rate, strategies to tackle homelessness and our Stepping Up mental health initiative, which resulted in an investment of hundreds of millions of dollars.  It is good to see so many of these initiatives, including Common Ground and the mental health reforms, being taken up by other states and nationally. 

I have enjoyed working with the UK based The Climate Group, a real bridge between business and governments internationally on climate policy, and being involved in the Rio Conference in June.  South Australia is now seen as an international leader in renewable energy with our wind power now exceeding coal fired generation.  Our 1 billion trees initiative through The Climate Group has passed the 550 million mark in commitments from governments as diverse as Scotland, Wales, Quebec, KwaZulu-Natal and Sao Paulo.  Interestingly there is also strong international interest in the clean tech development at Tonsley.    

It has been a privilege to follow former Howard Minister Robert Hill as Chair of Low Carbon Australia Limited.  LCAL is essentially a green bank, providing loan finance to companies to allow them to invest in new technologies to become more energy efficient, while at the same time saving them money and cutting their emissions.  Low Carbon Australia has a great relationship with banks, industry and local government around the country.  Many thanks to CEO Meg McDonald and her terrific team. I also enjoyed chairing the Australia-Canada Economic Leadership Forum in Toronto.  We have so much in common and, while generally regarded as medium sized powers, Australia and Canada are actually major global players when it comes to food exports and mineral resources. 

I leave Australia in December to take up a new position as Australian High Commissioner to the UK.  I thank the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister for this great privilege.  Sasha will join me in January.  Apart from the deepest historic and migration ties, Britain remains one of our major trading and defence partners and is the biggest investor in Australia.  In addition to political, diplomatic, trade, investment, defence and other activities I will also become Australia's Commonwealth War Graves Commissioner and a Trustee of the Imperial War Museum.  The Commission honours sacrifice by caring for 1.7 million graves in 23,000 cemeteries in over 150 countries.  There will be some important events coming up soon that both organisations will be heavily involved with: the Centenary of World War One conflicts, including the Somme and ANZAC Cove and the 70th anniversaryof World War Two, in which my father fought for Britain’s Eighth Army.  Australian High Commissioners to the UK also have other roles, including that of Permanent Representative to the UN's International Maritime Organisation and, of course, with the Commonwealth.    

Being Premier of South Australia was the greatest privilege of my life and I owe thanks to former Ministerial and Parliamentary colleagues, dedicated staff and so many others in our team who worked so hard.  When we return to South Australia Sasha and I look forward to seeing the completed new RAH, attending the launch of the first Air Warfare Destroyer, watching Port Adelaide win at the revitalised Adelaide Oval, travelling on the electric train to Seaford, and yes, driving on the two way Southern Expressway to watch the mighty Panthers.  We also look forward to attending all those yearly festivals we love and having that holiday at Arkaroola we were forced to postpone mid year during Sasha's daily radiotherapy treatment.  

I wish Jay and his Ministers every best wish in building South Australia.  From December I will be in a completely different role, representing our country in Britain.  But Sasha and I look forward to returning home to Adelaide a few years from now and we both have great confidence in South Australia's future.

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.