In politics it’s all just a little bit of history repeating
For SA Premier Mike Rann, “school” ends today, and from 9am tomorrow, he is on holidays. This is earlier than he wanted, but the right-wing “shoppies” union gave him no choice. No wonder he has spent much of his last days railing against factional influence in the Labor party.
Mr Rann has had a long innings since taking over the Premier’s job on March 5, 2002. Not a record, by a long way. The Liberal and Country League government of Tom Playford set the record, from 1938 to 1965, a longevity which will probably never be beaten. Of course, he did have a heavily biased election system in his favour.
That long Liberal reign was followed by a Labor domination. Of the 46 years from 1965 until now, Labor has been in office for 35. And that period has been dominated by three Labor Premiers: Don Dunstan (1967 – 79), John Bannon (1982 – 92), and Mike Rann (2002 – 11). In those data is one reason for the Rann angst at being pushed out of the job early – he could have achieved the record of being the longest serving Labor Premier.
There are some common components to these long Labor periods. The Dunstan decade nearly came to an early end in 1975. Don Dunstan was forced to be severely critical of the Whitlam government in the hope of saving himself from a backlash. He just succeeded. Labor won 23 seats, and the alliance of Liberal, Liberal Movement and Country party also won 23. The hung parliament was resolved when independent Ted Connelly accepted Labor’s offer to become the Speaker.
The Bannon decade also faced a hung parliament at the 1989 election. Again, the Premier was forced to try and rescue Labor from a negative reaction to the Hawke government’s policies in the federal scene. Labor won 22 seats, and the alliance of Liberal and National won 23. Another hung parliament, and Bannon was saved by the support of two independent Labor members.
Norm Petersen was rewarded with the role of Speaker, and Martin Evans became Chairman of Committees.
The Rann almost-decade also faced a near-death experience in the first election in 2002. Labor won 23 seats and the Liberals won 20. Another hung parliament. The balance of power was held by National party Karlene Maywald, and three independents: Peter Lewis, Bob Such (ex-Liberal), and Rory McEwen.
After long and tortuous negotiations, Lewis decided to support Labor, and was awarded the role of Speaker. Mr Rann later bolstered his numbers by convincing independents Maywald and McEwen to join his Cabinet.
There was another common element of the Dunstan and Bannon decades. When Don Dunstan retired due to illness in 1979, Des Corcoran was elevated to take the party into the election. Labor was defeated, winning only 19 of the 47 seats.
John Bannon resigned in 1992, announcing that as Premier he would take responsibility for the collapse of the State Bank. New leader Lynn Arnold tried hard, but no-one could have saved Labor from the tidal wave which left the party with only 10 seats.
Will the pattern be repeated this time? Jay Weatherill has until early 2014 to convince enough voters that his Labor party has learnt its lessons. The polls in 2011 suggest that Labor is languishing well behind, with a two-party vote in the low 40s.
This, of course, is why the SDA and the right-wing faction decided Mr Rann had passed his use-by date, and why the right and left factions agreed on Jay Weatherill. The new Premier will have to concentrate on making sure history does not repeat itself.
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