South Australia’s state election is set to kick off on Saturday where Liberal Premier Steven Marshall and his team will face up to public opinion on their handling of the Covid pandemic.
Like Victoria, South Australia brought in dictatorial ‘emergency powers’ that went largely unchallenged by the rest of the political landscape. The Labor opposition in South Australia, under Peter Malinauskas, is frequently described as ‘absent’.
This political homogeny has opened the field to minor parties. They have capitalised on unpopular Covid health orders that infringed on civil liberties and caused enormous financial harm, absorbing an influx of talent from the business world.
One political hopeful is the Liberal Democrat candidate for the South Australian Upper House, James Hol.
James describes himself as being a libertarian from a young age, placed in the centre-right of politics with a few exceptions (such as being against the ‘war on drugs’).
He is not a politician by trade, but instead hails from a small business background working in hospitality managing bars until Covid health orders swept through and saw businesses shut. Disturbed by the subversion of democracy for a full two years, which is an abuse of the people of South Australia, James found himself involved in ‘Freedom Anti-Lockdown’ protests.
In what is becoming an increasingly common story in the modern era, those hardworking small business employers and employees whose previous lives were ruined by politics have decided to join politics and fix the problem themselves.
One thing led to another until James found himself inside the Liberal Democrats with his hand up for candidacy.
Most politicians have one goal – to gain power. This new generation of politicians taken from the working class of Australia have something else in mind. As James says, his main focus is to bring an end to South Australia’s emergency powers enacted under Covid and to have them reformed so that politicians cannot misuse them in the future.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews found himself facing wall-to-wall press coverage when he brought in emergency powers. High-ranking members of the legal community went so far as to brand him a ‘dictator’ for securing the closest thing to unlimited power that Australia has seen put into print. In comparison, very little was said about Steven Marshall’s power grab.
Marshall said in January of 2021 that ‘emergency powers don’t lend themselves particularly well to a pandemic’, but that didn’t stop the Liberal government from bringing them in anyway. The powers were used originally as a legal requirement to keep South Australia’s strict border control in operation – something which the state was criticised for during the pandemic. Later, those powers were used to enforce vaccine mandates which saw people lose access to the economy and (in many cases) their careers.
State governments are facing challenges to pandemic emergency orders as Covid ‘fear’ wears off and people start to question whether the cruelty was worth it. These challenges are set to extend to the ballot box as minor parties promoting ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’ capture public attention.
In many ways, voting for minor parties can be considered a protest vote against the un-Australian behaviour of major parties.
Certainly, parties like the Liberal Democrats have the majors rattled, with legislation passed at a federal level to force the party to change their name in what can only be described as petty politicking. Voters are not confused between the Liberal Party and the Liberal Democrats.
James Hol says that if elected as a Liberal Democrat, he will insist on bringing in strict time limits for state emergency powers, transparency rules to guarantee the public access to the data that goes into the decision, and additional human rights protections.
Covid has changed the political game, and the South Australian election will provide an interesting test case.
While most topics fit neatly into the political binary, Covid has transcended party politics. Liberty from Covid is not purely a right-wing talking point.
‘There are a lot of left-leaning people who don’t agree with what’s going on,’ said James. ‘It’s just some very loud voices. You could easily make a left-wing argument against vaccine mandates and lockdowns. You’ve seen people like Joe Rogan, Russell Brand, and even [UK Labour Leader] Jeremy Corbyn – who is a self-described socialist – come out against vaccine mandates and various other Covid policies.’
This makes Covid-politics and libertarianism dangerous to both Labor and Liberal premiers, with neither party able to guess how many voters have been bled away into the Liberal Democrats.
Why don’t these fresh voices join the major parties and try to reform them?
‘My experience from other people is that there’s just no room. These big beasts of institution have no space to change anything. Particularly the Labor Party. The Liberal Party, at least, espouses that their members can make a difference. Basically, the Labor Party is directed by the Unions. There’s no real value in joining these parties and trying to fight from within. We’ve seen so many great people try and make a difference and fight from within. People like John Ruddick, Campbell Newman, and Ross Cameron who tried that fight from within the Liberal Party – but it didn’t work.’
While Steven Marshall doesn’t have the same authoritarian reputation as Daniel Andrews or Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan, Marshall hasn’t had his limits tested. The same dangerous emergency legislation hangs over the people of South Australia and who knows what will happen if another ‘crisis’ takes hold.
Where previous state elections were held in the grip of Covid-mania, South Australia and the Liberal government will have to deal with the aftermath. The shine has worn off authoritarianism. Will the downfall of the pandemic take a few state premiers with it?
James Hol believes that the Liberal Democrats have a real chance in South Australia.
‘We are a voice for freedom. On our campaign banner it says, “Liberal Democrats – less government, more freedom!”’
Is it time for a dose of freedom? Australia’s gaze falls on South Australia to find out.
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