Features Australia

No tears for Marshall

The soaking wet SA Libs got what they deserve

2 April 2022

9:00 AM

2 April 2022

9:00 AM

I lived in Adelaide for over twenty years. It was a perfectly pleasant place to live, albeit a bit hot in the summer and cold in the winter. The children had a relatively care-free existence.

So when the state election comes around every four years, I pay more attention than I would to other state elections, with the possible exception of Victoria’s. I still know some of the players in South Australia. But here’s the thing: there are lots of new faces, but nothing much changes on the Liberal (I can’t use the term conservative) side of politics.

You see, the divisions on the Liberal side are much greater than the divisions between Liberal and Labor. It’s the Montagues versus the Capulets – the wets and dries. Given half a chance, the old-timers will start prattling on about Steele Hall and the Liberal Movement. The divisions are real and they are long-lasting.

There are husband and wife teams, dad and son teams, dad and daughter teams. A complicated Heath Robinson diagram is required to highlight all the links. But the key differentiating point is between wet and dry.

For some time, the wets have been in the ascendancy. Steven Marshall, whose family ran a well-known furniture store, is a wet – or should that be WET? His faction includes the likes of Amanda Vanstone, Christopher Pyne, Simon Birmingham and the newish federal Member for Sturt, James Stevens.  There are fewer dries these days, particularly since Nick Minchin flew the coop.

The Marshall faction are, in the main, to the left of the sensible flank of Labor. In other words, they are not really Labor-lite. The Wets believe in big government, business handouts, ultra ‘progressive’ social policy (late-term abortion, anyone?) and confronting the ‘climate emergency’.

They are, almost without exception, very elitist in the views. Given the choice between a V8 car race and some interpretive dance ensemble performing in the Adelaide Parklands, the car race would lose out. After all, only bogans like car racing. And think of the impact on the climate!

While it is true that the wet Marshall government was absolutely trounced in the recent election, the reality was that the administration had fallen to pieces well before polling day. There had been defections, there had been parliamentary shenanigans, the deputy premier (a father/daughter team) had to step aside because of a conflict of interest and Marshall himself appeared to lose the plot.

By contracting out the running of the state for nearly two years to the chief health officer – paediatrician Nicola Spurrier – and the police commissioner, it felt like Marshall was not in charge. Unfortunately for Marshall, Spurrier showed incredibly poor judgement by imposing excessive restrictions – to the point that Adelaide became the butt of jokes nationwide about not touching footballs and unsourced pizza boxes.

Sadly for Marshall, his decision to show who was boss came at precisely the wrong moment, removing some of the restrictions, including opening the borders, just when the Omicron variant was taking hold. But here’s the thing, plenty of stupid rules still prevailed, such as the refusal to use RATs (a five-hour wait at Victoria Park for a PCR test, anyone?); masks; some social distancing; and ridiculous contact and isolation rules.

To be frank, he looked like a complete fool. Having fear-mongered for months while banging on about keeping South Australians safe, he then sidelined the two individuals previously calling the shots but made a complete botch of it. If I’d been one of those persons caught in the web of those ridiculous rules, I too would have voted Marshall out.

Now into this mix comes an opposition leader from central casting, Peter Malinauskas. A good-looking son of migrants, he attended a Catholic high school where he was school captain. After university, he joined the conservative Shoppies union and began to make his mark on the Adelaide scene. In the old money, he is DLP through and through – pro-worker, pro-business but socially conservative.

After entering state Parliament, Malinauskas was quickly promoted, ending up as health minister under the Weatherill Labor government. But after 16 years in office, Labor was looking stale. An electoral redistribution meant that it was possible for the Liberal party finally to secure office and Marshall fell over the line.

Marshall’s political instincts always seemed sus; he was very wont to listen to the progressive elements in the party baying for social policies that don’t resonate with normal mums and dads in the burbs. In many ways, he had a clean sheet of paper with which to work and he blew it almost immediately.

Come the election, with his government in tatters, Marshall’s campaigning technique had all the power of a lettuce leaf. In the meantime, Malinauskas focussed on the problem of ambulance ramping and broader problems in the health system. (It was surely ironic that most of these problems dated back to Labor’s term in office, a point that Marshall failed to make.)

Labor was going to build a new ambulance depot in the CBD and add several hundred million dollars to the service’s budget. Unsurprisingly, the union covering the ambos (and the nurses) got right behind Labor’s bid for office.

In the meantime, Marshall was announcing a new enclosure for giraffes overlooking the Torrens River – a point made by News columnist, David Penberthy – and the development of a plant-based meat industry in the state.

This latter point was made during the ABC’s election coverage by the truly pathetic ex-deputy premier, Vickie Chapman (a wet). She seemed surprised that the electorate had not warmed to this thought-bubble. She also seemed surprised – OK, denied for a long time – that her party had actually been thrashed in the election.

What crow-eaters now have to look forward to is at least two terms of a Malinauskas government, possibly more. He actually has some pretty dopey ideas, like a taxpayer-funded hydrogen plant costing over $600 million.

He also plans to introduce freedom-sapping emergency laws based on the Andrews government model. But Marshall and his team of macchiato-sippers haven’t raised any objections at this stage.

As for the Liberal party, it can go one of two ways. Either the wets take over or the dries/conservatives stage a coup and install some right thinking individuals who can guide the party back to connecting with ordinary folk. We will have to see.

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