News State SA News Labor outplays Libs in backroom bid for power

Labor outplays Libs in backroom bid for power

Jay Weatherill
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Labor triumphs after winning independent’s support

There’s a saying in life that those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it. And that’s equally so in politics.

For the second time in just over a decade the Labor Party in South Australia has outgunned the Liberals in negotiations to form a minority government.


Independent Geoff Brock has agreed to back Labor after the March 15 poll delivered a hung parliament.

Interestingly, it was a similar story at federal level in 2010 when Julia Gillard was too quick-footed for Tony Abbott.

Brock had talks with both Labor Premier Jay Weatherill and Liberal leader Steven Marshall before making his decision on Sunday, one that was also prompted by news that fellow independent MP Bob Such will be away from the parliament for two months on sick leave.

Mr Brock says that played a crucial role in him offering to back Labor, to ensure a degree of stability in the years ahead.

A decision to support the Liberals could have left the major parties tied with 23 votes each on the floor of the parliament, raising the possibility of another election.

In return Mr Brock will serve as a minister in the Labor government, taking the portfolios of regional affairs and local government relations.

Both side of politics have kept a tight lid on the details of the negotiations that were conducted with the independents and, crucially, with Mr Brock.

But while stability was a key issue, it’s not hard to conclude that Labor was better at wooing the kingmaker than the opposition, especially considering his electorate is historically conservative and the Liberals clearly won the popular vote in the statewide poll.

It’s a situation not dissimilar to that in 2002 when Mike Rann managed to convince former Liberal turned independent Peter Lewis to support Labor in another hung parliament in return for a grab bag of promises and the speaker’s chair.

Some close to that deal say it was secured only at the last minute by Labor strategists willing to take a chance on the maverick MP.

Before his announcement Mr Lewis had been expected to back the incumbent Liberal government.

From all reports, the Liberals had expected him to side with them as well and were caught flat-footed by his apparent backflip.

Mr Brock’s move doesn’t quite fall into the same category and he has presented as a consistent and thoughtful representative for his electorate since entering the parliament in a by-election in 2009.

It’s also easier to justify his decision. The arguments for stability and the need to avoid a fresh election are powerful ones.

But Labor’s success in securing his support may also be viewed as another example of how good the party has become at the art of backroom politics.

Perhaps the Liberals need to take notice.