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Richardson: The great unknown will stoke Liberal fears


It was what the Liberals feared.

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After a radical redraw in 2016 gave them a nominal advantage that with disciplined campaigning translated into a literal one, today’s draft redistribution hands that advantage – at least in part – back to Labor.

That 2016 report was the first, Liberal insiders argued, that gave due credence to the contentious ‘Fairness Clause’, which held that the party with a statewide majority should also win enough seats to form government.

Labor was sufficiently rattled by that 2016 report that it challenged it in the Supreme Court – and lost.

But that court decision has now helped inform today’s draft redraw.

With no Fairness provision mandated, the Commission has given credence to the ‘one vote, one value’ consideration Labor insisted was pre-eminent in its legal challenge.

And the result has been to slice and dice safe Liberal-held areas in the Upper Spencer Gulf, while shifting the seats of four Government MPs towards nominal Labor territory.

The next election will in large part be fought on those four seats – Elder, Adelaide, Newland and King – along with Mawson, held by former Labor minister Leon Bignell and to a lesser extent Jayne Stinson’s Badcoe.

Those six seats are set to be the only nominal marginals in the state – but fallen Marshall Government minister Stephan Knoll will be feeling ever more vulnerable with his once-safe Barossa fortress of Schubert being slashed to a vulnerable margin.

The great unknown is the statewide vote.

At the previous election it was skewed by the high primary vote of Nick Xenophon-led SA Best, which failed to pick up a lower house seat but captured significant support.

Where that support ebbs in 2022, when the minor party is unlikely to contest in the House of Assembly and would have no impact if it did, will further muddy the assumptions underpinning today’s redraw.

If you start on an assumption that the parties are neck and neck, Labor holds the upper hand on paper.

Liberal sources say Knoll will have work to do to rebuild support in his seat – while his former cabinet colleague Dan Van Holst Pellekaan must consider his own future, with independent Geoff Brock set to contest his seat of Stuart after his Port Pirie stronghold was moved within its boundaries.

The Government will have other headaches: Waite, where former rising star Sam Duluk is currently sidelined from the party and facing a basic assault charge, is more vulnerable than it was two years ago. And the party’s recent problems with country members allowance claims could prompt a backlash – or a spate of retirements – in other seats such as Hammond and Chaffey.

But while Labor retained a measured rhetoric today, behind the scenes there will be concern in the Liberal ranks.

After finally garnering the boundaries – and the principle underpinning them – that they’d argued for 16 years to achieve, they could be right back where they started.

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