City Standard

A cynic’s guide to the change in government with Gael the galah

Royce Kurmelovs
Allan Mawer

When The Liberal Party grasped power in South Australia, pundits heralded the change in Government as a new world order. But in SA, even as letterheads change, public servants duck for cover, and new Ministers wield their authority, some things will always stay the same.

As Steven Marshall walked into the Hackney Hotel on Adelaide’s east side to greet the pulsing crowd of excited supporters, The Man by The Killers played over the sound system. No one, apparently, had stopped to explain to the event organiser that the song was an ironic piss-take on being young and full of yourself.

Or maybe they had, but no one really gave a damn because the night of March 17, 2018 belonged to the South Australian Liberal Party. After 16 years in the political wilderness, it was their man – Steven Marshall – who would soon be crowned the 46th Premier of South Australia.

All indications signalled good news for the Liberals. The party which had lost a sure-thing last time around had decisively won the unwinnable election. In the seat of Hartley, Nick Xenophon – Australia’s most successful populist to date – had been slayed by Vincent Tarzia, a formerly no-name candidate. Labor, meanwhile, had fought hard, but it wasn’t enough. The seat of power had fallen to the Liberal Party.

“Thank you very much,” Premier Steven Marshall says as he takes to the podium to address those he calls the “blue army”. Like any good leader, he thanks the volunteers and he thanks party elders like John Howard, Julie Bishop, and John Olsen for their help. Most of all he thanks the young people in the room who had come of age never knowing a Liberal State Government.

Now they were about to.

As he closes out his speech, Steven saves his final thanks for the people of South Australia.

“We had specifically asked them to give us a majority government, because we know a majority government will be able to drive the reform agenda we desperately need here in South Australia,” Steven says. “I give you my guarantee that I and every single person in the team will be working diligently every day over the next four years so we can build a brighter future for South Australia, a better future for South Australia.”

Easy, like a Sunday morning reading the politics pages

Over the next few days the story of the 2018 state election was one of heroic triumph, but when the hangovers lifted and the numbers stabilised, it turned out the Liberals had not done as well as claimed. According to ABC’s Antony Green, the SA Liberals had taken government with a swing of 1.1 per cent against it and a 37.97 per cent share of first preference votes. Labor, meanwhile, logged 32.79 per cent, leaving about 29.24 per cent of South Australians voting for someone else.

The general feeling around town was that we were entering a brave new era. Daniel Wills, writing for The Advertiser, described the victory as a sweeping away of the old order: Labor, Jay Weatherill, and Nick Xenophon represented the forces of “old Adelaide”, he said.

Problem was, it had been so long since a change in government that no one really had any idea what that might look like. South Australians had 16 years to gather data on how the former Labor Government did business. But, the best they had to assess their new leaders was the centrepiece of The Liberal Party’s election bid – a website laying out what the party promised to do in the first 100 days of government.

Entitled “Strong Plan for Real Change”, the document emphasised the twin themes of “strength” and “authenticity”. Over the first month of the Marshall Government, it was largely followed to the letter. While the amount of items on the list were ambitious, the actual content itself was not radical. The various Liberal branches around the country had learned from the Tony Abbott era that it was unwise to push too hard, too quickly. Instead it was better to make small, uncontroversial, and even boring reforms that could be defended in isolation and which – over time – added up to a changed world.

All the focus in those first 100 days would be on two central policies – a promise to deregulate shop trading hours, allowing retailers to open whenever they pleased, and another to reduce payroll tax. Getting both across the line would be made easier by the ascendency of Peter Malinauskas to the Labor Party leadership. Among Labor circles, the former head of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association has long been recognised as the anointed successor of Jay Weatherill and once confirmed, Peter was keen to strike a conciliatory tone. Among his first announcements as Opposition Leader were a promise to support payroll tax reductions and a willingness to negotiate on shop trading hours on Sundays.

What effect these reforms may have on the South Australian economy remains to be seen. John Spoehr, director of the Australian Industrial Transformation Institute at Flinders University said the repercussions would be “limited” in comparison to other potential changes.

“State Government investment in infrastructure has been around $2 billion per annum over the last few years,” John says. “The new government has indicated it will not reverse past decisions on infrastructure but it is not clear how much it is prepared to invest over the next four years. There is a high risk that unemployment will rise if the spend is not maintained at around $2 billion per annum over the next few years.”

“We will have a better idea of what to expect from the new Government after it releases its first State Budget and after it has made key appointments into senior roles including establishment of the new Economic Advisory Council and SA Productivity Commission.”

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