Blue wave set to sweep nation

By Greg Ansley

Abbott likely to have coast-to-coast premiers as South Australia and Tasmania go to the polls.

Liberal wins would give Prime Minister Tony Abbott powerful leverage. Photo / AP
Liberal wins would give Prime Minister Tony Abbott powerful leverage. Photo / AP

Chief Minister Katy Gallagher, whose party controls the Australian Capital Territory's Lilliputian 17-member Legislative Assembly, could become the nation's sole surviving Labor Premier tonight.

The Labor Governments of Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings and South Australia's Jay Weatherill appear doomed as both states go to the polls today in elections that will paint the nation's political contours an almost uniform blue.

It would be the final dismantling of glory days that began with then-South Australian Labor leader Mike Rann's victory in 2002, handing Labor control of every state and territory. Instead, Prime Minister Tony Abbott would have coast-to-coast Liberal premiers.

But while most share Abbott's broad conservative views, the Liberals' full house will not guarantee him an easy ride: state governments have their own agendas - and in the past have bucked federal administrations of the same political hue.

Already, some of the states have confronted Canberra over education reforms and industry assistance, notably the car industry and struggling canner SPC Ardmore in Victoria.

But the likely Liberal tsunami would give Abbott powerful leverage and a significant psychological boost that would make Labor Leader Bill Shorten's job more difficult. Already, polls are beginning to turn back Abbott's way.

If there is doubt that Abbott will be handed an uninterrupted field of blue it lies in marginal seats South Australian Liberal Leader Steve Marshall needs to win today. While most polling points to a Liberal victory, a Galaxy Poll in yesterday's Adelaide Advertiser showed Labor leading 51-49 per cent in the key outer Adelaide seats of Newland and Mitchell, suggesting the result might be closer than expected. A minority government is possible.

Labor only squeaked home at the last election and now holds 26 seats - two more than it needs for majority government - while the Liberals hold 18. The remaining three seats are held by independents.

The overwhelming issues facing a new South Australian government are a moribund state economy and unemployment. Major infrastructure projects are winding down, massive resource projects have been put on ice, Holden is closing and the state's big naval shipbuilding contracts are nearing their end.

Both major parties are claiming they alone can pull the state out of the doldrums.

Labor promises more big spending on infrastructure and new government-business-community partnerships. The Liberals are toeing Abbott's line of a return to budget surplus, reducing the role of government and cuts to land and payroll taxes.

Across Bass Strait, Giddings is in deep trouble. Polls have uniformly predicted a crushing defeat for Labor, with a Newspoll in the Australian yesterday pointing to a huge swing that would give the Liberals at least 13 seats, cut Labor to six and the Greens to four.

Until yesterday Labor and the Liberals each held 10 seats, and the Greens five.

Labor faces a number of serious hurdles, including the fatigue factor of 16 years of power and its alliance with the Greens that kept the Government in power. That alliance has strained support and was dumped by Giddings in January.

Both major parties have ruled out new deals with the Greens, although the realities of ruling as a minority government plagued by mountainous problems could force concessions.

The same key factors as South Australia dominate the election, magnified by a decline that has seen Tasmania fall well behind the mainland states in almost every important measure. The economy has been hammered, and the jobless rate has soared above national levels with no real solutions in sight.

Both sides are arguing the same cases as their South Australian counterparts overlaid with the hugely sensitive issue of environmental management, especially of the island's forests.

Tensions between environmentalists, foresters and the unemployed have been magnified by Abbott's recent pronouncement that too much woodland is locked away, and that he intended to pull 70,000ha of forest out of World Heritage listing.

The listing was part of a deal that finally brought peace to the industry. Liberal Leader Will Hodgman has promised to tear up the agreement if he wins today. Giddings has vowed to protect it.

But Tasmanians have grown tired of the party that has presided over years of decline and appear ready to give the Liberals a chance.

- NZ Herald

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