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Broken electoral system or bad Liberal campaign? MHS coy on inconsistent claims


Renegade Liberal Martin Hamilton-Smith could face a grilling when he fronts the electoral boundaries commission next month to argue the Liberals lost successive elections through “campaign failings” – because the claim is seemingly at odds with his post-election declaration that “there is something wrong with our electoral system”.

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InDaily revealed yesterday the one-time Liberal leader – who quit the party in May 2014 to join Jay Weatherill’s frontbench – has made a submission to the review of the state’s electoral map which could potentially derail his former party’s attempts to convince the commission of an entrenched advantage for Labor.

Hamilton-Smith told the Electoral Districts Boundaries Commission the Liberals’ longstanding failure to snare a majority of seats was down to a “lack of a party platform, confusion over values, an absence of cogent and targeted policy development and flawed marginal seat campaigning”, and has requested the chance to front the commission personally next month.

However, his arguments appear to contradict his public statement in the wake of the 2014 election, wherein the Opposition garnered 53 per cent of the two-party vote, but failed to win enough seats for a parliamentary majority.

Pointing out similar outcomes had also occurred in 1989, 2002 and 2010, Hamilton-Smith told The Advertiser the day after the election: “There is something wrong with our electoral system where South Australians keep voting for a Liberal Party and not getting it.”

When asked today whether he stood by the comment, Hamilton-Smith told InDaily: “I don’t want to get down into a debate about what I’m going to [tell the commission].”

“If it’s the parliament’s wish that whoever gets 50.1 per cent of the vote should get Government, they need to amend the constitution to make that happen,” he said.

“It hasn’t been happening.”

He said he would “make his points” in the commission, but added: “You need to look at what the constitution says.”

He was alluding to the now-notorious ‘fairness clause’ that says the commission should ‘as afar as practicable’ ensure the party that wins a two-party majority should also win Government.

“It says ‘as far as is practicable’… it doesn’t say ‘must’,” Hamilton-Smith said.

“This touches on some points others have made about different ways of doing it, but ask me about that when I give evidence – I’ll provide a very thorough answer to that question.

“I don’t want to beat the matter along now, I just want to show the commission the respect of saving my remarks until I appear… but I have strong views on a whole host of issues about this, and I’ll express them on the day.”

He said he could “assure you my views will be completely consistent with the views I’ve always held”.

South Australia Liberal Party leader Isobel Redmond leaves the post party room press conference closely followed by newly-elected deputy leader Martin Hamilton-Smith, Tuesday, March 30, 2010. The party's united approach to Ms Redmond's position crumbled when they elected Martin Hamilton-Smith over her choice Iain Evans, 10 votes to eight. (AAP Image/Angela Harper) NO ARCHIVING

Hamilton-Smith putting on a brief united front with Isobel Redmond after the 2010 election. Photo: Angela Harper, AAP.

Those views were perhaps outlined in May 2010, after an election in which an Isobel Redmond-led Liberal Party had failed to win Government despite an almost 52 per cent statewide vote. Hamilton-Smith made a speech to parliament reflecting on his own failed leadership, which he terminated after only garnering a one-vote majority in a partyroom challenge.

He emphasised a need for policy boldness and unity from Opposition, warning that victory in 2014 was not assured.

“I think being a small target does not inspire people and generally does not work… you need to be prepared to have opinions,” he said.

“I think another lesson is that our marginal seat campaigning must simply be improved… Some marginal seat members were well supported, others were not… You cannot afford the luxury, in my view, of spending time and effort raising funds for an upper house campaign when your marginal seat campaigns are underfunded. We worked the existing seats but we did not work hard enough in the marginal seats.

“The fact is that we lost six seats that we needed to win… you will not get any moralising from me about the fact that we won the popular vote but did not win government. We need to do better—plain and simple: we need to win the marginals.”

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