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SA electors searching for proof of Liberal life

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With Labor getting its political house in order, the Liberals are running out of time to capture momentum, warns Tom Richardson.

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The confirmation of the ALP right bolstering its ministerial heft next week will tell us much about the state of the party.

The Liberals will, appropriately, maintain their narrative that this is the epitome of Labor’s backroom dealing and factional jockeying foisting the powerbrokers’ will on the Premier.

But if the Left concedes a ministerial vacancy to its Labor Unity opponents, it will suggest a caucus-wide determination to maintain stability, and signify that Labor is on the charge to the next election.

A few years ago things were very different. The Right was splintering, and the Left was agitating, famously goading Don Farrell into relinquishing his unassailable place on the party’s senate ticket and, as it turned out, his seat.

If this week’s deal is an olive branch for that perceived injustice, it suggests the Labor machine has had an oil change and a service and is once again purring along as it was designed to.

One way or another, next week the Weatherill Government will have two fresh faces. For all the Libs’ valiant attempts to paint the aspirants as union hacks, they will inject some new life and zeal into the front bench – something the Opposition’s Clayton’s reshuffle this week pointedly failed to achieve.

They say the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over. If that’s so, the strange madness of the SA Liberals must have infected Steven Marshall.

It would be unfair to say the Opposition has performed poorly this term – it is more accurate to say it has not yet taken the stage.

Indeed, so risk averse have the Liberals become, so afraid of taking a step out of line, they would generally prefer to say nothing new for fear of saying the wrong thing.

As InDaily revealed yesterday, this week Marshall pulled the equal lowest approval rating for an Opposition Leader since 1990, and the lowest since 1999. Lower than any of his predecessors who have steered his party to successive defeats since Mike Rann took office.

This is a perplexing turn.

Marshall – and his failure to cut through – has become a political conundrum.

In my previous life as a TV reporter, I attended media conferences with the fledgling Opposition Leader most days. Often, on the way, whichever cameraman I was with would share their thoughts about his one-dimensional media performances. However, after the doorstop was over, the Liberal leader would invariably stick around to share his views – delivered with garrulous passion – on a variety of topics.

And invariably, whichever cameraman I was with would leave the interview with a more positive slant on his capability.

“Why doesn’t he talk like that when he’s on camera?” they would ponder.

Why indeed.

Marshall is still a relative novice. He made the frontbench when he was still a first-term MP. Before the four years was up, he had become his party’s leader.

He did all that by following his instincts, including the instinct to join a failed leadership coup against Isobel Redmond when he feared another election defeat was looming.

Clearly he had something his party wanted to harness.

And yet since that time he has seemed afraid to draw on his own instincts, happier to take the advice of colleagues who have lost election after election.

They say the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over.

If that’s so, the strange madness of the SA Liberals must have infected Steven Marshall.

Electors aren’t looking for political conundrums – they want policy solutions.

They want signs of vitality and renewal.

That the Liberals still can’t comprehensively offer those things now, after 14 years out of office, is an indictment.

There is time still for Marshall to remind us all why he was so quickly anointed as his party’s saviour.

If he can’t though, he risks becoming not merely a political conundrum, but another cautionary tale.

Tom Richardson is a senior journalist with InDaily. His political column is published each Friday.

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