SA Votes 2018: Federal-State Relations

Issue 3, 28 February 2018

With political unrest in Canberra, we analyse the developing relationships between the Federal Government and the South Australian major parties, and whether this is likely to have an effect on the upcoming election.

The Campaign Trail

The resignation of Nationals Leader Barnaby Joyce and internal tensions within the Federal Coalition have featured in the media this week, serving as a distraction from the South Australian election campaign.

While the South Australian Liberal Party would not welcome the extensive media coverage of its federal colleagues, previous elections have shown that voters tend to differentiate between federal and state issues, and vote accordingly. Liberal strategists would have kept this in mind, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party Julie Bishop having both campaigned with State Liberal Leader Steven Marshall and other Liberal candidates over previous weeks.

On the other hand, Premier Jay Weatherill is taking every opportunity to highlight his strained relationship with the Federal Government. Posters and election materials have emerged across the state, branding the Premier as ‘Standing up for SA’. Labor’s aim is to position Premier Weatherill as an advocate for the State, fighting for South Australia against a Federal Government being painted as east coast-centric.

This strategy builds on a number of public disputes between the Federal and SA governments over the past year, from energy quarrels with federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg, to establishing a Royal Commission into the Murray-Darling Basin Plan to investigate water theft by other states, in addition to criticism of the Federal Government over health and infrastructure funding allocations.

The Labor Party is also dealing with the fallout from the release of the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption’s 456 page report ‘Oakden: A Shameful Chapter in South Australia’s History’ on maladministration at the Oakden Older Persons Mental Health Facility. While Commissioner Bruce Lander did not make a finding of maladministration against any government minister, it has been revealed that former Mental Health Minister Leesa Vlahos attempted to have her name removed from the report. Premier Weatherill has apologised for the events at Oakden and accepted responsibility for the failings, in an attempt to minimise ongoing pressure from other parties in the lead up to Election Day.

The Announcements


Labor has continued to announce big infrastructure spends over the past week. With a focus on trams, Labor has committed $279 million to an EastLink line to Norwood, and $259 million for the ProspectLink extension to North Adelaide. A re-elected Labor government will also establish a new South Australian Ports Authority. Continuing a renewable energy focus, Labor has announced a $100 million scheme to provide interest-free loans for the installation of solar and battery systems, and the abolition of stamp duty and registration for five years on the purchase of new electric or no-emission cars.

Pre-empting the release of the Oakden report, mental health has also received attention this week, with a $70 million commitment from the Labor Party, including funding for community outreach; drug and alcohol addiction services; home-based services; and suicide prevention work.


The Liberal Party has presented their plan for the old Royal Adelaide Hospital site, following Labor’s plan released last week. The Liberals intend to spend $60 million to move the International Centre for Tourism, Hospitality and Food Studies to the site, while also investing $27.5 million to establish an entrepreneurs’ hub.

A Defence Workforce Plan will also be developed by a Marshall Liberal Government, to review the existing skill base and forecast needs for the State to capitalise on the Federal Government’s Naval Shipbuilding Plan. Mr Marshall will be responsible for the defence industries portfolio if the Liberals form government.

SA Best

SA Best Leader Nick Xenophon has revealed SA Best’s energy policy, which is centred on the establishment of the Community Electricity Trust of SA (cETSA), a not-for-profit community electricity retailer, which will supply cheaper power to low income households and small businesses.

Mr Xenophon has made further announcements across a range of portfolios, including revealing SA Best’s seniors policy, including free public transport; the establishment of a specialist independent body to implement a coastal management policy; and demanding that SA ‘opts in’ to the Commonwealth Redress Scheme for survivors of institutional child sexual abuse.

The Candidates

Candidates have now been finalised for all parties; full details are available at the Electoral Commission SA. The distribution of the 264 Lower House candidates are outlined in the below table.

Changes to group voting tickets in the Upper House, previously used by parties to influence party preferences and preference dealing, have been abolished. The result is a reduction in the number of minor parties and independent candidates, also known as ‘preference harvesters’, running for Legislative Council seats. The only party preferences that will count will be those completed by voters.

This election will see 13 groups and a total of 43 candidates contending for 11 Upper House seats, down significantly from a high in 2002 of 48 groups and 76 candidates.

Seats in the Spotlight

Due to the significant electoral boundary redistribution conducted in 2016, four seats have notionally changed from Labor-held to favouring the Liberal Party.

  • Newland (Liberal 0.1%*) – Newland is held by Labor MP Tom Kenyon, however is now considered notionally  Liberal, and also winnable by SA Best due to a high SA Best vote in the area at the Federal Election. It is now considered the most marginal seat in the State.
  • Mawson (Liberal 3.2%*) – Labor Minister Leon Bignell will face a real challenge to retain his seat since the boundary redistribution has significantly changed the demographics of the electorate.
  • Colton (Liberal 3.7%*) – The retirement of sitting Labor MP Paul Caica opens up Colton to a fight, with the Labor Party losing the benefit of incumbency and name recognition.
  • Elder (Liberal 4.3%*) – Labor MP Annabel Digance will face-off against previous opponent Carolyn Habib (Liberal), with memories of a deeply personal campaign in 2014 threatening to reignite.

*Notional margin, following redistribution, based on 2014 State Election results.


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