South Australia State Election Hints at Trouble for Federal Liberal Government

Incumbent Liberals lose in South Australia . . . 

As widely predicted, the incumbent Liberal government in the state of South Australia was voted out in Saturday’s election and replaced by the South Australian Labor Party. It is the first loss by an incumbent premier in the six Australian state elections held since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. New Premier Peter Malinauskas’ South Australian Labor won 27 of the 47 seats in the House of Assembly (lower house), while the South Australian Liberals are predicted to win 16 seats, with independents claiming four. Among the most significant election issues were funding for health and ambulance services and cost-of-living issues.

Tough time for federal government before election . . .

Most analysts see the result in South Australia as a repudiation of Prime Minister Scott Morrison's performance and a rejection of former South Australian Premier Steven Marshall and his government. Recent polling has shown Morrison’s approval rating has cratered in the last year, dropping from 65 per cent in February 2021 to 45 per cent in March 2022. The federal Labor Party is edging out the Liberals in preferred voting polls and is generally seen as stronger on health and cost-of-living matters than the federal Liberal Party, which is traditionally stronger on defence and the economy. As such, many see the May federal election as tipping in Labor’s favour.

What separates the major parties on Asia issues?

With China having emerged as a significant issue in the upcoming federal election, there is not much daylight between the two parties on Asia-related issues. The opposition Labor Party supports PM Morrison’s decision to move for nuclear-powered submarines as part of the AUKUS agreement, which most observers feel is designed to contain what its signatories (the U.S., U.K., and Australia) see as China’s growing military threat. Labor also supports Morrison’s refusal to accede to any of the ‘14 grievances’ Beijing says need to be rectified to put the China-Australia relationship back on a friendly footing. So, while the Liberal government and opposition Labor parties differ on myriad domestic issues, on the country’s main foreign policy issue in the Indo-Pacific the two are in lockstep. We should expect continuity on this file after the federal election in May, regardless of which party wins.