“Maybe I wasn’t ready at the last election,” he told Adelaide podcast The Message Pod, which launched today and will become a regular feature on InDaily.
“I’d only been in parliament for three years when I became leader of the Liberal Party – and a year later I was contesting an election against a Premier who had been in cabinet for 12 years.”
Listen to Steven Marshall talk to The Message Pod’s Nicole Haack here:
Jay Weatherill yesterday lashed Marshall’s opposition as “craven, lazy and indolent” – in a move seen as shifting Labor’s approach to the Liberals in the lead-up to the 2018 election, the combative rhetoric suggesting a bid to tarnish Marshall’s leadership credentials.
But Marshall insists the Liberals’ plan for the state “is so much more robust than what we’re being offered by a continuing Labor Government”, and says he is now far more comfortable in his role as leader.
“I don’t feel in any way at a disadvantage from the Premier now,” he said.
“We have debates in parliament on a regular basis [and] I don’t feel in any way that he has an advantage on me.”
Marshall, a latecomer to politics after a business career, believes “everything I’ve done in the past” – including the election defeat – “has prepared me for the role I have now and what lies ahead”.
He says he wants to drive a “Liberal reform agenda” – more detail of which is expected to be thrashed out at a partyroom conference this month.
“I had hoped that I’d do that in 2014, but I wasn’t successful,” he said.
“But I’ve used every second I’ve had since that defeat to think even more acutely about what we need to be doing in SA.
“When I was born, Adelaide was the third-largest city in the country… I have enormous pride and ambition for this state, and I get really annoyed when I hear people in Sydney and Melbourne talking disparagingly about our state.”
Marshall says the rigours of office – which he calls “a tough mistress” – can take their toll, but he is driven by a sense of public service.
“If you’re doing it for yourself I think you can fail pretty quickly,” he said.
An experience in the dark moments after the shock poll defeat was pivotal for Marshall.
“I had a call … after the state election, which we had lost… it was this chap who rang up saying, ‘I’m John’.
“And I said, ‘Hi John, how can I help you?’”
In the event, it wasn’t just any John on the line, but the nation’s second-longest-serving prime minister, John Howard, who told Marshall: “If you continue as leader and the party-room re-elects you, I’m by your side, I’ll do whatever I can”.
“You’ve been good for the party and will ultimately be good for the state,” Howard told him.
Marshall says Howard’s own experience – the famous Lazarus comeback, the decade in power and the eventual ignominious defeat – shows that “politics is about highs and lows”.
“John Howard’s [political] life hasn’t always been smooth sailing [but] it was a triumph of perseverance over giving up.”
Marshall recalls how he was walking down a street in his Dunstan electorate with the former PM last Christmas, and bystanders broke into spontaneous applause.
“As he walked down the street, he was being applauded for what he had achieved… and he turned to me and said: ‘You’re very popular here’!”
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