The election on March 17 of Steven Marshall’s Liberals with a bare lower house majority in the Assembly, on the back of lackluster small target campaigning, opens a new and more bitter phase of class struggle in South Australia. Claiming an intent to get SA back on track on tried and true Tory policies of capitalist welfare and public sector bashing, the impact of this back to the future regime bodes ill for the administration of health, welfare, education and energy policy in this State.
The Liberals coasted back into government on a king tide of inveterate Murdoch press support, which cultivated the `It’s Time’ factor and every item of bad news it could front page against Labor, after 16 years of Labor government. Swinging voters opted to turn out an administration in hopes of renewal, especially given the Weatherill administration’s patchy administrative record. Scandals in child welfare and aged care ventilated by the press contributed. The privatizing zeal of the early Labor administration under Rann and Foley, which brought in its wake amongst other things crippling utility price rises, also weighed long term in the Weatherill government’s saddlebags. Superior campaigning by Weatherill around visionary, socioeconomically and environmentally sound industry, employment and energy policies only served to prevent an electoral rout, not defeat. But history is not over, and the class struggle goes on. The basis has been laid for effective Opposition by Labor. Assuming the usual disenchantment with any government, the Marshall administration may yet prove to be a one term wonder. Political liabilities abound for the Liberals and any disunity under pressure will sit ill with the public. And the Liberal Party has a history of disunity in this State.
The principal hurdle Marshall will face is that he has no majority in the upper house, the proportionally elected Legislative Council. The vote saw the regrettable defeat of disability advocate and Dignity Party Legislative Councillor Kelly Vincent, who had valiantly interpreted her mandate progressively for a term, due to a lack of primary support and the adverse flow of major party preferences away from her. The Greens had to fight hard to retain Tammy Franks in the upper house. Both Labor and the Greens will have to lick their wounds, go back to the drawing board and get their houses in order for the trying times ahead. If they can agree to disagree and sensibly make common cause against the common enemy, then the Marshall Ministry will immediately find itself living in interesting times. The Murdoch press is already boosting his claim to have a mandate to go through the State like a dose of salts with his neo-liberal `reform agenda’. [Remember the Whitlam era, when `reform’ meant something positive and progressive?] In his first day in office Marshall begged the Council to be co-operative. It would be in the State’s best interest if his appeal were to fall on deaf ears and his radically reactionary and ideologically driven agenda were to be rejected.