Manufacturing seen as key to South Australian votes

Election campaigning is just getting started, and South Australia could provide the Coalition with its toughest challenge yet.


Expected job losses in manufacturing and defence have hit voter sentiment hard, and even Christopher Pyne’s once safe Liberal seat is under threat.

As the possibility of an early election inches closer, the political landscape in South Australia is dominated by the decline of manufacturing.

It’s already the state with the highest unemployment.

John Spoehr, Director of the Australian Industrial Transformation Institute at Flinders University, says the prospect of more job losses is likely to weigh heavily on the minds of voters.

“The election here in South Australia is all about jobs, jobs and jobs, particularly because of the closure of the auto industry here in Adelaide in 2017, but also with the prospect of the closure of Arrium in Whyalla, which is going to affect a really substantial proportion of the workforce.”

South Australia has eleven federal electorates.

The rural and regional seats of Grey and Barker are the two largest by area in the state, covering remote and rural areas as well as regional centres.

They’re also the safest Liberal seats in the state.

The biggest battles on election night are expected closer to Adelaide.

Hindmarsh, west of the CBD, Boothby to the south and Christopher Pyne’s electorate of Sturt in the leafy eastern suburbs are the most marginal seats.

Liberal Matt Williams won Hindmarsh from Labor as part of the coalition’s landslide win in 2013 but it now sits on a tiny margin of 1.9 per cent – the smallest swing would put it back in Labor hands.

Labor’s candidate for Hindmarsh, Steve Georganas, lost the seat in 2013.

This year he wants it back and says the party politics which hurt Labor badly at the last election are a thing of the past.

“That was one of those elections where we had a fairly high swing away from Labor around the country. When you look back at that era, I think there were a lot of internal politics that were taking place, and people can see through that.”

He says he’s never seen the party as united as it is at the moment.

Both Mr Georganas and incumbent Matt Williams are pitching job creation and defence projects.

Mr Williams says if he’s re-elected he’ll continue to focus on shipbuilding.

“Well it’ll be on making sure that we maximise Australian industry involvement in the submarines, and also the frigate program. Because it is one thing to build them here, it’s another thing also to make sure Australian defence industry suppliers are getting the maximum value out of it and maximum jobs for our local economy.”

The state’s most senior government politician, Christopher Pyne, has held Sturt for the past 23 years.

He has a 10 per cent margin.

Political analyst William Bowe says he’s likely to feel the heat from smaller parties like Independent Senator Nick Xenophon’s political party, the Nick Xenophon team.

“(There’s) no question that he’s going to get a big share of the vote, but the jury really is out on whether that becomes big enough to make him really competitive in a lower house seat.”

Greens candidate Rebecca Galdies is hoping to win votes in Sturt by campaigning on issues such as marriage equality and fighting climate change.

“I’ve been out doorknocking in Sturt, and we’ve been getting a really good reception. I have a great deal of faith in the voters of Sturt, and I think Christopher Pyne’s time is up.”

A Newspoll released earlier this month showed Labor gaining ground on the Coalition in the primary vote.

John Spoehr, from the Australian Industrial Transformation Institute, says the Prime Minister’s recent announcement that offshore patrol vessels will be built in Adelaide has been broadly welcomed across the political spectrum.

He adds the long-awaited announcement on the $50 billion future submarines project will also affect votes.

“There are about 3000 jobs associated with that, and many more flow-on impacts, positive flow-on impacts that would flow from that, so it’s very important that the right choice is made, that they are locally built.”

French company DCNS has won the $50 billion contract, and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says most of the building will happen at Adelaide’s shipbuilding facility at Osborne.

Some component parts will come from other parts of Australia and the US.

“And the spin offs into the rest of the economy will be immense. The defence industry is at the very cutting edge of technology. It has to be the best. These submarines will be the most sophisticated naval vessels being built in the world. And they will be built here in Australia.”

It’s an issue the government’s campaign to win votes in South Australia may sink or swim on.