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Libs outspent Labor 50 to 1 in safe seats, caucus told

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The Liberals spent more than 50 times as much as Labor campaigning in seats they already held – and were no chance of losing – and outspent the ALP three to one at the 2014 election, Labor state secretary Reggie Martin has told a caucus meeting today.

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Martin briefed Labor MPs about the Electoral Districts Boundaries Commission’s ongoing review of the state’s electoral map behind closed doors today.

But InDaily understands he insisted “it is difficult to see how the commission could have set more fair or accurate boundaries” than it did before the last state poll – which the Liberals lost despite a 53 per cent two-party vote.

“The Liberals are framing the argument that they won 53 per cent of the statewide vote, but only 22 seats… but this is misleading as it ignores the seats won by independents in conservative electorates,” Martin told party colleagues.

“The argument falls apart if we instead look on the other side of the pendulum – Labor received 47 per cent of the statewide [two-party vote] and won 23 of the 47 seats… that is, Labor won 47 per cent of the statewide vote, and 48.9 per cent of the seats.

“So the boundaries set by the previous commission were remarkably accurate, considering they were set two years before the election, and based on projected population figures.

A party that utilises resources like this almost guarantees that it will win more than 50 per cent of the statewide vote.

“If only the Liberals had been able to win conservative seats that were instead lost to independents, they would have been able to form Government.”

Martin said he was “not privy to the accounts of the Liberal Party” but “I have an understanding of what it costs to send out direct mail and unaddressed mail, a TV or radio spot and outdoor advertising such as corflutes [election posters]”.

“I also collect all of the materials that our opponents put out [and] I estimate that the Liberal Party spent over $300,000 trying to win the seat of Giles, more than $100,000 campaigning in a safe Labor seat like Enfield, and more than 50 times what Labor spent on seats like Flinders, Chaffey, Bragg, Finniss and MacKillop,” Martin told the Labor caucus.

“Overall, they outspent the ALP three to one at the 2014 election, and this is backed up by the Federal returns to the [Australian Electoral Commission]… a party that utilises resources like this almost guarantees that it will win more than 50 per cent of the statewide vote.

“But it also guarantees that a smarter campaigning force will target exactly what is needed to win.”

160119__Government Cabinet-6

ALP state secretary Reggie Martin at last month’s cabinet swearing-in. Photo: Nat Rogers, InDaily.

Martin characterised the 2014 campaign with a military analogy: “The Liberals commenced an expensive and indiscriminate carpet bombing campaign over the entire state, seemingly clueless as to what their targets were, while the Labor Party, with more limited resources but a disciplined outfit, utilised surgical strikes exactly where it mattered.”

“It is not the fault of the Labor Party that the Liberals continually put significant resources into campaigning in safe Liberal seats, such as Flinders and Chaffey,” he said.

The boundaries review must realign electorates, keeping the number of voters in each roughly equal, while following the principle that the party with a statewide majority should form Government “as far as practicable”.

InDaily revealed yesterday that some members of a 1990 parliamentary inquiry – which also included senior Liberals Stephen Baker and Bruce Eastick – had serious misgivings about the “fairness clause” they nonetheless recommended, even urging a semi-proportional “top-up” system to be reconsidered after the 1993 election; it never was.

Committee member and former Labor (later independent) MP Terry Groom told InDaily: “[The Liberals] are the authors of their own predicament, and it’s no use crying wolf and blaming the [Electoral] Commission or the boundaries – the fact is while we’ve got single member electorates, the two-party criteria is just not going to work… and that’s what happened in the 2014 election.”

Dean Brown, who became premier in the 1993 landslide, rejected responsibility for ignoring the top-up option, saying “it had already been rejected” before the poll.

“The issue was dealt with by the parliament at the time, and it was agreed back in ’91 that they wouldn’t pursue the top-ups… I was not in the parliament at the time,” he said.

Brown said “I think you can raise questions about the basis under which [the boundary review] has been done” in the past, given “every other state does it and seems to be able to do it on a fair basis, without a top-up”.

“Why can’t SA?” he asked.

“If you look at every other state they don’t seem to have this problem… I think it’s more a matter of making sure the boundaries drawn are fair and balanced.

“If they’re drawn in a fair and reasonable manner, it should deliver a result such that whoever attracts more than 50 per cent of the vote wins Government… clearly there’s been an ongoing fundamental problem here in SA, but we’re the only state that seems to have that problem.”

Martin briefed caucus that “if the current commission sticks to the methodology that every previous commission has used, we would expect minimal changes to the boundaries”.

“However, the Liberal Party is pushing very hard to convince the commission to completely throw out the previous methodology, and start again,” he said.

“In a nutshell, they are asking for the commission to give them Government without needing to run an effective campaign.”

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