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The Independent Weekly
February 26 - March 4, 2010
The contrast with four years
ago couldn t be more stark. In
2006, the question hanging over
the Rann Government s pitch for
re-election wasn t whether Labor
could win a second term, but just
how big its victorious margin would
be.On the surface, not much has
changed. The economy, while
buffeted by economic turmoil,
appears fundamentally sound,
and the Government has never
once fallen behind in four years
of opinion polls. The Opposition
remains haunted by memories of
recent division and plagued by
underperforming hacks, and is now
led by a relative political novice.
So why has the Government s
first week on the official campaign
trail been such an unmitigated
Sure, we know oppositions don t
win elections, governments lose
them, blah blah blah, but this is not
a government prone to elemental
gaffes, and Mike Rann is not a
politician built for losing elections.
Thanks to that 2006 landslide,
it is almost inconceivable that the
government s lead can be wiped out
in one fell swoop. But the feel of this
campaign is undeniably different.
There is a spring in the Liberals
step. There is a slouch is the
Government s stride.
Sure, the Opposition s task
appears all but impossible,
especially with its economic
credibility still languishing after
last week s costings blunder. But
it will take heart that Kevin Rudd
was told back in 2006 that winning
power was a two-term project;
that the 2007 poll would be a bid to
establish an electoral "base camp"
before making a charge at the
summit in 2010.
Observers said Labor s then-
novice leader must first reduce the
Howard Government s majority
before he could usurp the throne.
And yet, he didn t just reduce it,
he extinguished it. And the irony
is, back in 2006, the only Labor
pundit insisting it was possible to
overthrow Howard in one go was
the aspiring national president, one
Michael David Rann.
"Even though many
commentators and even some Labor
people think achieving a 4.8 per cent
swing in 2007 is a bridge too far, I
think they re totally wrong," Rann
said in September 2006.
"And we ve demonstrated in
South Australia in a couple of
elections, one where we got a 9.5
per cent swing and another a 9 per
cent swing, that, you know, it can
be achieved if you actually have
a psychology of winning and a
psychology of governing."
The Premier may yet find his own
words coming back to haunt him.
His is not a Government currently
exhibiting a psychology of winning.
Much has been written and said
about the disastrous opening day of
the campaign, when reporters were
given only half an hour s notice of
Rann s 9am visit to Government
House, and were subsequently
offered chocolate cake to mollify
The Premier and Treasurer, and
certain Labor minders, mocked
reporters for "sleeping in", but it
was not the early hour that rankled,
it was the duplicity and secrecy
surrounding the campaign.
Every reporter had checked with
the Premier s office the previous
evening to ensure they were across
the day s proceedings, only to be
told nothing had yet been finalised.
In hindsight, I find this hard to
believe, as the Governor, Rear
Admiral Kevin Scarce, could hardly
have been given such scant notice
of the pivotal visit.
We were all assured that ample
notice would be given; in the event,
a handful of text messages was
sent out to specific reporters at
8.30am, only half an hour before
the Premier arrived (bizarrely,
with several of his ministers in
tow). There was not even a cursory
call to news rooms; if any of these
reporters had failed to check their
phones for half an hour, they
would have missed the start of the
I informed the Treasurer s
press secretary, who was hanging
sheepishly around by the gate of
Government House, what I thought
of Labor s strategy when I arrived
sporting whatever rumpled jeans I
could scoop off the bedroom floor
as I dashed to the car: "Are you
guys idiots, or what?" (I might have
added the odd expletive!)
Whatever the intention, it
was inevitably going to invite
suggestions that the "cloak and
dagger" shroud of secrecy was
intended to avoid a run-in with
Michelle Chantelois, thus thrusting
that whole affair back into the
headlines. Needless to say, this is a
rather odd way to kickstart a bid for
Rather than underline cabinet
solidarity, the presence of the four
ministers who flanked the Premier
throughout the morning -- Kevin
Foley, John Hill, Jay Weatherill
and Jane Lomax-Smith -- was
more confusing than anything
else. Why those four? Perhaps they
were selected on the basis of being
Rann s most trusted confidantes,
except that three of them have been
linked with leadership aspirations
in the past year. Or perhaps they
were judged to be the cabinet s most
dependable performers, but that
wouldn t explain J-Lo s presence.
Were the likes of Mick Atkinson
and Pat Conlon asked to give the
festivities a wide berth? The cake
episode, with Kevin Foley and John
Hill serving chocolate-coated slices
to a bemused press gallery as they
offered profuse apologies for the
strategic stuff-up, simply added to
the increasingly bizarre spectacle.
Not content with getting the
state s TV reporters offside on day
one, the Government didn t wait
long before taking aim at the print
and radio fraternity.
Rann s Wednesday foray into
law and order -- announcing extra
police and new crime-fighting
equipment -- was largely derailed by
a spat between The Australian and
the Premier s press secretary, Jill
Bottrall, who had apparently been
less than fulsome in explaining the
Government s attempted veto of
ABC announcer Matthew Abraham
as a "guest panellist" during next
week s showpiece election debate.
The Oz felt it had been misled; I
can only imagine Abraham wasn t
ecstatic, either. As an added bonus,
ABC-TV s political roundsman
Nick Harmsen -- Labor s preferred
guest panellist --was no doubt
unimpressed by the Premier s
constant mispronunciation of his
name as "Harmsman".
The Opposition hasn t done
anything particularly impressive or
even competent to distinguish itself
of late, but then, it hasn t really
had to. This time last week, I was
convinced the Liberals Southern
Expressway gaffe was terminal,
that the Government would
ruthlessly exploit their stupidity
and make economic credibility
the centrepiece of its message
throughout the ensuing campaign.
But in truth, the blunder has been
hardly mentioned; if it all, only as a
passing dig, rather than a concerted
theme of attack.
And let s face it, as far as election
slogans go, "Keep South Australia
Moving Ahead" isn t a patch on
the infinitely catchier "Rann Gets
Results" of 2006.
Labor s well-oiled machine of
yore is looking decidedly rusty. I
still favour it to win a cherished
third term, but if it does it will
hardly be the triumphant walkover
of four years ago. Indeed, if he s
already making notes for his
election night speech, the Premier
might consider paraphrasing the
great man Paul Keating, after his
1985 tax summit: "It s a bit like Ben
Hur -- we ve crossed the line with
one wheel off."
Today Tonight producer
Memo: To the Premier from the
Ministry of Transparency: No!
Reply: No what?
MT Memo: No debate!
Reply: Didn t get tasered. Could
MT Memo: Must be kept secret.
Reply: 5.30pm Channel 10?
MT Memo: Check! ... Date?
Reply: When she can t?
MT Memo: Check! What if she
Reply: Fix panel?
MT Memo: Fixed!
MT Memo: Warning! Warning! ...
MT Memo: Invite everyone ... 100
journos, just 30 minutes.
MT Memo: Check! Moderator?
MT Memo: Cheque?
David Bevan, ABC radio
It must be so frustrating. Don t
people understand this is an
election campaign and campaign
agendas are meant to be set by
faceless spin doctors? These
faceless people decide what they
want the public talking about and
shape that debate with stage-
managed announcements, photo
opportunities and stunts. Except
that s not happening.
This week callers weren t ringing
in about the Liberals transparency
in government policy or Labor s
plan for the old Mitsubishi site.
They weren t ringing in about
Redmond s ICAC or Rann s
tracking devices. No, they were
calling about disturbing anti-
abortion posters plastered around
They called about both major
parties putting up posters before
the election had officially started.
One caller even rang to say a poster
of Labor MP Jay Weatherill had
been changed to look like Gene
Simmons from the rock group Kiss.
And when people had just about
finished talking about posters they
got talking about an attempt by
the Premier s office to remove my
colleague Matt Abraham from a
proposed panel at the TV leaders
No, people and journalists just
aren t co-operating with the spin
FIVEaa news editor
Q. When is a pledge a lost
A. When it hits a politician in the
face and they don t realise it.
Kevin Foley was asked on
FIVEaa if he would sign a pledge
honouring Labor s campaign
promises. The normally agile
Treasurer fell into a hole, saying:
"I m not in the business of signing
He was reminded Premier
Mike Rann had signed a pledge in
an earlier election, to which the
Treasurer replied that was when
Labor was in Opposition.
"So it s OK to sign a pledge in
opposition but not in government?"
Leon Byner asked.
Mr Foley laughed nervously and
took it on notice.
Liberal Leader Isobel Redmond
won points for being a little more
prepared when she visited our
studios, but lost them and then
some, for delivery.
She had a pledge prepared and
signed it on air but missed the
opportunity to hammer home the
"I think it s a bit of a stunt but if
you think it will make people more
content ..." she said.
Given the Premier has since
promised to sign a pledge as well,
a content electorate isn t what the
Liberals will be wishing for on
Paris Dean, Radio Adelaide news
This week saw the obligatory pre-
election debate debacle, complete
with mandatory allegations that
the swathe of carefully selected and
intentionally unacceptable dates
was conclusive proof that the other
side was running scared.
The contenders also continued
to trickle policy: while the
Government announced a plan to
train more than 150 new specialist
teachers in maths and science,
the Liberals announced their
calculations and plans on unfunded
WorkCover liability. Of course, the
only figures politics junkies are
paying attention to are opinion
polls. In this regard, the race for
the coveted underdog position is
on in earnest with the kind
of internal polling that gets
"leaked" to a hungry media,
dressed up as the inside scoop and
dutifully splashed across front
pages predictably showing an
implausibly close race.
Dr Clement Macintyre, School
of Politics, Adelaide Uni
The formal campaign is now
underway. Stobie poles are
already covered in posters and TV
advertising has been stepped up.
At the last election the Liberals
were short of funds and their
main TV ads had to wait until the
last few days before the election.
This time they appear to have
more money and more purpose
in their campaign. This suggests
the private polling run by the
parties shows the gap between the
Government and the Opposition is
The odds are still against the
Liberals winning enough seats to
win office. But Labor is already
more anxious about this election
than it expected to be even a few
Dr Haydon Manning
School of Politics, Flinders Uni
The pantomime surrounding
fixing a time for the leaders
debate saw Mr Rann virtually
beg journalists to believe him
that he was "relaxed". The fact is
he s looking uncharacteristically
There is even a freshness about
the Opposition, a remarkable
outcome few would have predicted.
The newly minted Ms Redmond
contrasts well with a Premier who
is hanging on to past achievements,
always a danger sign for a
government that s been around for
Is Labor staring at the prospect
of repeat of 1989 election? After
two terms and seven years in
office, the generally competent
Bannon government struggled
to convince voters about its past
achievements, lost five seats and
its majority. While it s early days,
a repeat performance, and a hung
parliament, surprisingly now bobs
up as a possibility. Independent
MPs Such, Hanna and Brock must
be hoping the Premier remains
As they see it
A bit like Ben Hur? Premier Mike Rann.
Photo: Kate Elmes
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