Steven Marshall and Peter Malinauskas have faced off in the final debate of the South Australian election campaign, with the Labor leader again focused on the ailing health system and the premier continuing his attack on the opposition’s economic credentials.
The two leaders took questions from undecided voters on Wednesday in a key showdown before Saturday’s vote.
It came after a new opinion poll gave Labor a commanding lead, but also as former prime minister John Howard cautioned against writing off the Marshall Liberal government.
In the debate, both Mr Marshall and Mr Malinauskas were quizzed on a range of issues from climate change, education, the future of the arts and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Health system biggest challenge
But Mr Malinauskas was adamant the biggest issue facing SA remained problems with the state’s health system, including ambulance ramping, hospital delays and the need for mental health reform.
“Everything about my policy and the plan I take to this election is about the long-term future of this state,” the opposition leader said.
“But before we think about the long term it is essential we think about the most immediate challenge and need that confronts us right now.
“That is the need to address a hospital and health system that is in total crisis.”
Mr Marshall said voters who wanted certainty and a stronger future should continue to support the Liberal government.
‘Fastest growing economy’
“We’ve delivered the fastest growing economy in the country for the first time ever,” he said.
“We’ve delivered record jobs for South Australia, record exports and record investment.”
Mr Marshall said the alternative was a return to Labor and its big-spending promises which would inevitably result in higher taxes and charges.
Earlier on Wednesday, Mr Howard joined the premier on the campaign in the government’s most marginal seat of Newland.
Polls often ‘a very poor guide’
Dismissing the poll that had the Liberals trailing badly, he said voters would ultimately be swayed by the government’s economic record.
“I’ve seen a lot of polls. I’ve been buffeted by them in the past and I’ve been exalted by them,” Mr Howard said.
“What I know is they can often be a very poor guide. Tune in on Saturday.”
In the Advertiser-YouGov poll Labor was clearly ahead of the Liberal government, 56 per cent to 44 per cent, on a two-party preferred basis.
That could be enough to have the opposition pick up as many as six seats, sufficient for it to govern in its own right.