Senate debates

Wednesday, 19 March 2014


South Australia State Election

7:19 pm

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise tonight to make some comments about the South Australian election that was held last Saturday and to advise this house that we have the extraordinary situation where 53 per cent of South Australians voted for a Liberal government and, despite that fact, it appears highly unlikely that the Liberal Party will be able to form government. If you look at any other jurisdiction around Australia, in any of the other states—even Tasmania, which has a more complicated election system—or the federal situation, any party that got 53 per cent of the vote would reasonably expect to be not just in government but in government by a reasonably significant majority. You have to question whether there is something fundamentally flawed in the way the South Australian electoral system is working for that situation to have occurred.

As you would be well aware, Mr Acting Deputy President Bernardi, given that you come from South Australia, in three out of the last four elections the Liberal Party have succeeded in achieving more than 50 per cent of the two-party-preferred vote. On each of those three occasions we failed to achieve government. If this sort of thing happened once and then was rectified—because obviously you cannot help that changes occur, with people moving between electorates et cetera—you could suggest that maybe it was just an anomaly in the system that should have been fixed at the time. But for it to have happened so regularly over the last 16 years it seems to me that there is a fundamental flaw that has failed to be addressed. Given we are talking about 53 per cent of the voters, you would have to say that the South Australian people have spoken—and they have said that they do not want a continuation of the Labor government that they have had for the last 12 years.

I go back to the point of what we are going to do about this. We proudly stand here in Australia and say that one vote has one value. But if we have a situation where the majority of people support a particular party but that party continues to fail to achieve government then maybe we need to be looking at how we change our boundaries in South Australia. Maybe we need to look at the regular updating from the Electoral Commission South Australia and how they are going to address this problem this time. Exactly the same thing occurred in 2010, when the Liberal Party got 51.8 per cent of the vote and fell 18 seats to 26 seats.

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

You have got to win the seats.

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We actually ended up falling six seats short of being able to form government. The fact is that it was not just a very close situation—where you maybe had a seat or two here or there—but, with 51.8 per cent of the vote, we actually fell six seats short. I think by anybody's reckoning that is not a system that is particularly fair.

I said in my commencing remarks that it looked unlikely that the Liberal Party in South Australia would form government. However, it is certainly premature to be saying that they will not form government, because we have two Independents who currently hold the balance of power. Those two Independents, the member for Frome and the member for Fisher, reside in reasonably conservative electorates. You only had to read, in this morning's Advertiser, about the poll that they did in the two electorates, to find out that the voters of those electorates overwhelmingly wanted the Independents to support the establishment of a Liberal government in South Australia.

If we are not able to form a government in South Australia we will have a situation where the majority of people of South Australia have spoken on Saturday, although it appears—from a survey in the two Independent seats—that the majority of people in the seats won by the Independents have indicated that they want a conservative government to form in South Australia. Both of the Independents are obviously very sensible men, and I am sure that they will be listening to reason. We can only hope. That is particularly so in the case of Mr Brock, who resides in a regional electorate. We all know that many of the issues that confront South Australia at the moment are in our regional areas. Mr Brock has the wonderful opportunity here, if he forms government with the Liberal Party, to be able to deliver some outcomes for rural and regional South Australia in areas like infrastructure, which has been so sadly lacking. Our roads are unbelievable.

In South Australia the Labor government has been trying to lower speed limits simply because they have not spent enough money on road maintenance. The roads have become unsafe, but their answer to was not to fix the roads so that they are good and safe for people to drive on, but to reduce the speed limit. That begs the question of whether, if we do not start doing something now, we are all soon going to be driving around at 20 kilometres an hour.

It is also interesting to note that the extraordinary majority of people in country seats voted for the Liberal Party. In the seat in which I live—Chaffey, which includes much of the Murray River and the Riverland area of South Australia—many of our booths were voting in excess of 80 to 85 per cent for the Liberal Party. It is such an overwhelming indication of what the people in South Australia, particularly in the rural and regional areas, are requesting of the government. They are saying: 'It is time that we had a government that did not forget about us. It is time that we had a government that recognised that South Australia's boundaries go past the metropolitan area and that those people who live in rural and regional areas count just as much.'

Before I finish, I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate David Speirs, who appears to have been elected as the new member for Bright; Vincent Tarzia, who appears to have been elected as the new member for Hartley; Troy Bell, who appears to have been elected as the new member for Mount Gambier; and Corey Wingard, who it appears quite likely will be elected as the member for Mitchell. I would also like to congratulate Andrew McLachlan, who has been elected to the Legislative Council.

In conclusion, I also congratulate the Tasmanian Liberal Party for an overwhelming result in Tasmania. As I said earlier, given the extraordinary situation in Tasmania, with the electoral system that I do not think anybody really understands, it was a fantastic result for the Liberal Party and a terrible result for the Greens.

The most important lesson that we need to learn from the South Australian election on Saturday is that if we really want have integrity in our electoral system, if we want people to be comfortable that our electoral system is fair and unbiased, and if we want the majority of people to be listened to when they go to the polls, we need to do something to change the way we vote in South Australia. We need to make sure that no South Australian feels that their vote has not mattered or that their vote has not counted. Despite the fact that the wishes of the majority of the people have been loudly broadcast around the whole of the state, it is quite likely, as I said, that a government will be formed in South Australia that does not represent the wishes of the majority of South Australians.

Senate adjourned at 19 : 27