Political history – SA 2014

The first Labor government was formed in South Australia in 1905. It was around this time that a formal political party structure developed in South Australia, with liberals in South Australia forming the Liberal and Democratic Union.

Over the next 28 years, governments tended to be short-lived, with power alternating between the Labor Party and a series of anti-Labor parties. The liberal and conservative forces in South Australia first merged together to form the Liberal Union in 1910, which became the Liberal Federation in 1922.

The ALP formed government in 1924, led by John Gunn. Gunn was replaced by Lionel Hill in 1926, and at the 1927 election Gunn lost to a coalition of the Liberal Federation and the Country Party, led by Richard Layton Butler.

Butler’s Premiership lasted just over three years, before his government was defeated in 1930 by the ALP, again led by Lionel Hill. Hill as Premier struggled with policy issues due to the Great Depression, and in 1931 his cabinet agreed to the Premiers’ Plan, which was very unpopular in the ALP.

Hill and his entire cabinet was expelled from the ALP, and only remained in government with the support of the conservative opposition.

In 1932, the Liberal Federation and their Country Party allies merged to form the Liberal and Country League. In February 1933, Hill resigned and his cabinet was taken over by Robert Richards, another member expelled from the ALP over the Premiers’ Plan.

At the 1933 election, Butler’s Liberal and Country League won a strong victory over a divided ALP, with Richards’ Premiers Plan supporters running against the official ALP.

1933-1965 – the LCL-Playford era

The LCL government elected in 1933 went on to govern South Australia for 32 years without a break. The government was originally led by Richard Layton Butler, in his second term as Premier.

Butler’s government, as part of concessions to the Country Party prior to the parties’ merger in 1932, agreed to introduce a system of malapportionment that drew much less populous electorates in regional areas than in urban areas.

At the 1938 election, the LCL lost its majority, with a large number of independent MPs, who gave support to Butler.

Butler resigned in late November to contest the federal by-election for the seat of Wakefield, but in a shock result he lost the seat.

Butler was succeeded as Premier by Thomas Playford IV. Playford’s grandfather had also served as Premier in the late 1880s. At the time of Butler’s resignation, he held the record as South Australia’s longest-serving Premier. Playford was soon to beat that record.

Playford skilfully managed the large crossbench, and at the 1941 election the LCL government won a one-seat majority, and another one-seat majority was won at the 1944 election. At both these elections, Playford’s majority was ensured thanks to the malapportioned electoral system, which became known as ‘Playmander’.

The ALP’s vote grew in 1947, to a large 48%, substantially ahead of the LCL’s vote. Despite this large plurality, the LCL held a seven-seat majority. A similar result was achieved in 1950.

At the 1953 election, the LCL managed to hold on to a one-seat majority despite the ALP winning over 50% of the primary vote, and the LCL’s vote falling below 40%. The LCL did not manage over 40% of the primary vote again until 1968.

In 1962, the ALP’s vote reached almost 54% of the primary vote, and the Liberal and Country League lost its majority, relying on two independents to govern with the smallest of majorities ahead of the ALP.

In 1965, Playford’s twenty-seven years as Premier came to an end, when the ALP’s vote managed to reach 55% of the primary vote, and a slim majority in the House of Assembly.

1965-1993 – Labor domination

Over the ten elections from 1965 to 1989, the ALP won eight times. In 1965, the ALP led by Frank Walsh formed government. In 1966, the Liberal and Country League leadership was handed from Playford to Steele Hall.

In 1967, Walsh was pressured to step down in favour of Don Dunstan, who led the ALP to the 1968 election.

In 1968, the ALP again won a large majority of the vote, but lost their majority to the LCL, who formed government under the leadership of Steele Hall.

Pressure was put on the Hall government to water down the Playmander, and electoral reform legislation was passed to reduce the malapportionment. This saw the ALP, despite a slight decline in their vote, win a solid majority at the 1970 election.

Dunstan’s government became the longest-lasting ALP government in South Australia up to that time, winning the 1973, 1975 and 1977 elections.

In 1979, Dunstan retired due to ill-health, and the Premiership passed to his Deputy Premier, Les Corcoran. Corcoran called a snap election in 1979, with the ALP losing to the Liberal Party, led by David Tonkin.

Tonkin’s premiership lasted only one term, with the ALP under John Bannon winning power in 1982.

The Bannon government governed throughout the 1980s, winning further terms in office in 1985 and 1989.

In 1991, the State Bank of South Australia collapsed, causing a major downturn in the financial position of the South Australian government and politically devastating the ALP government.

John Bannon resigned in 1992, and Lynn Arnold as Premier led the ALP to a landslide defeat in 1993.

1993-2002 – Liberal rule

The Liberal Party, led by Dean Brown, won a massive victory in 1993.

Factional moderate Brown had been elected Liberal leader in 1992 after defeating conservative John Olsen. Brown and Olsen had a long rivalry dating back to Olsen’s defeat of Brown for the Liberal leadership in 1982.

Olsen had led the Liberal Party to defeat in 1985 and 1989 before moving to the Senate in 1990. Brown had lost his seat in 1985 and left politics.

Due to poor performance of Liberal leader Dale Barker, both factions had managed to create vacancies in the House of Assembly for both Olsen and Brown to return, at simultaneous by-elections in Kavel and Alexandra respectively.

Brown won the leadership battle shortly after, and led the Liberal Party into government.

Election success did not dampen the rivalry, and after three years in power the Liberal Party switched to John Olsen, who became the new Premier.

The 1997 election saw most of the Liberal Party’s gains of 1993 evaporate. Labor leader Mike Rann led the ALP to double their numbers from 10 seats to 21, while the Liberal Party fell one short of a majority, relying on two independents and a National to govern.

Olsen’s downfall as Premier in 2001 came due to the Motorola affair, in which he was accused of giving misleading evidence to an inquiry into the granting of a contract to the telephone company. Upon his resignation, the Liberal leadership was won by Rob Kerin, who defeated former premier Dean Brown.

Kerin led the Liberal government to the 2002 election, which produced another hung parliament.

2002-2014 – Labor in power again

At the 2002 election, very little changed in terms of seats, but enough changed to shift the government. The ALP gained two seats, one short of the number they needed to win a majority. The Liberal Party lost three seats, and the crossbench expanded from three seats to four.

With four conservative crossbenchers sitting in the Parliament and the Liberal Party needing four seats to continue governing, most observers expected Kerin to hold on. This expectation was shattered by the decision of Peter Lewis, a former Liberal MP who had been expelled from the Liberal Party in 2000, to support a Rann Labor government.

The Rann government appointed Lewis to the Speakership, and later on in his term he also offered ministries to National Party MP Karlene Maywald and independent MP Rory McEwen.

In 2006, a landslide election result saw Rann gain a majority for the ALP, although both McEwen and Maywald continued in their roles as ministers. Rob Kerin led the Liberal Party to the 2006 election, and then resigned. The ALP gained a net five seats off the Liberal Party at that election.

The 2010 election was a tougher race for the Labor Party, with polls indicating a stronger support for the Liberal Party, led by Isobel Redmond. Despite the Liberal Party winning 51.6% of the two-party-preferred vote, the ALP only lost a net two seats thanks to strong campaigns in marginal seats and the swing being concentrated in safe seats.

In late 2011, Mike Rann resigned as Premier, and the Labor leadership and Premiership went to Jay Weatherill. In January 2013, Isobel Redmond was replaced as Leader of the Opposition by Steven Marshall.