Labor eyes bigger prize as SA Best splits vote

SA Best’s game-changing foray into the state election campaign has perversely changed the equation for Labor’s electoral hopes, with the ALP understood to be targeting more prospective seats as it seeks to benefit from a divided Liberal vote.

Feb 01, 2018, updated Feb 01, 2018
Steven Marshall's seat of Dunstan has new interest for Labor with SA Best in the mix. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

Steven Marshall's seat of Dunstan has new interest for Labor with SA Best in the mix. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

InDaily revealed last month that Labor had designated the central seat of Adelaide, held by Rachel Sanderson, and David Speirs’ southern suburbs seat of Black, as ‘target seats’ – whose campaigns are set to benefit from party resources in the expectation they are a realistic chance of winning.

But party insiders believe Nick Xenophon’s move to up the ante by running at least 10 more SA Best candidates than originally envisaged has shifted the equation in a handful of other seats – in Labor’s favour.

It’s likely at least three further Liberal-held seats will be – or have already been – redesignated as target seats for the ALP. These would include Henley-based Colton (which became nominally Liberal under last year’s redistribution) and two election game-changers – the Norwood-centred seat of Dunstan held by Liberal leader Steven Marshall, and the north-east marginal of Hartley, where Xenophon himself is running.

While polls put Labor well behind in Hartley, the party will benefit from Greens preferences, and hasn’t given up hope of edging its way into second place.

That’s despite this week’s YouGov Galaxy poll putting Labor firmly behind Xenophon (37 per cent) and Liberal Vincent Tarzia (32) – on a primary vote of just 21. However, the Greens garnered a respectable 8 per cent in the poll, understood to have been commissioned by Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest’s Minderoo Foundation.

Labor insiders have confirmed their belief that “Xenophon running in some of these seats makes it a closer contest”, and it’s understood the party has its eye on more seats now than it did a fortnight ago, as it seeks a historic fifth consecutive term.

One source said the party was “looking at its options with a view to expanding its [target] seats lists” in light of SA Best’s own expanded campaign.

However, some in the campaign remain concerned a raft of safe Labor seats – including the likes of Elizabeth, Enfield, Playford, Taylor and Giles – could still fall Xenophon’s way.

Others remain convinced that while the party will “lose skin” in its heartland seats, it won’t be enough to see them turn orange.

Even if, as expected, Labor suffers a strong electoral backlash, the electorate is volatile enough that it could yet make the odd unexpected gain – which would provide not just consolation but a longer-term strategic advantage.

Marshall’s seat is an intriguing prospect – with a nominal two-party margin of just 3.9 per cent.

While Marshall garnered half the primary vote in 2014, there was strong support for minor party candidates, with the Greens and Dignity polling 14 per cent between them – most of which would flow to Labor after the distribution of preferences. The then-Family First party didn’t run a candidate in Dunstan in 2014.

At the 2016 federal election, the lower house booths contained within Dunstan recorded a primary vote of almost 17 per cent for Xenophon, but NXT still trailed the Liberals (46.65) and Labor (24.8) comfortably. If SA Best and Labor eat into the Liberal vote this time round – and the ALP can keep Xenophon in third place – it’s likely to benefit strongly from the flow of preferences.

Both Labor and Liberal strategists were buoyed by the lukewarm performance of Xenophon’s candidate Jack Noonan in his stage-managed weekend media appearance, which has already been the subject of social media scorn.

Curb your enthusiasm for any new @SABEST_Party candidates.#saparli #auspol #adelaide #SouthAustralia

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It’s understood Dunstan is one of around 10 seats the Liberal Party has been regularly polling in recent weeks, although insiders are bullish about the Opposition Leader’s prospects.

Marshall did not return calls today, but asked by text message whether he believed Xenophon’s foray into Dunstan gave Labor a better chance of snaring the seat, he replied: “No.”

Further asked if he’s confident he’ll retain it, he wrote: “Yes.”

SA Best expects to finalise its candidate rollout next week, with Xenophon adamant the final number will remain “around 30”.

InDaily has been told the party has been besieged by new hopefuls in several seats previously not considered – raising the prospect it could be represented across almost the entire electoral map.

But while Xenophon confirmed “there are a number of good prospective candidates that have put their hand up in recent days”, he insisted “it’s a question of having the resources with a fledgling party”.

“We have a number of very good prospective candidates, but we have limited resources,” he told InDaily.

“We’re doing the best we can [but] we want to run well in all the seats we’re running in, to have people adequately resourced… so to suggest we’ll be running in almost every seat is not accurate.

“Unless something changes, around 30 is the realistic number.”

In tentative good news for rising Liberal stars Stephan Knoll and Dan van Holst Pellekaan, it’s understood the Xenophon party is yet to find candidates in Schubert or Stuart – two seats InDaily revealed this week would be likely to fall SA Best’s way based on an analysis of voting patterns in relevant booths at the 2016 federal election.

However, if the party does not field a candidate in either, questions will be asked about its decision to run high-profile Port Augusta mayor Sam Johnson as number three on SA Best’s upper house ticket, rather than in Stuart.

Xenophon also confirmed one of the glut of hopefuls he unveiled last weekend – former ACT parliamentarian Helen Szuty – currently lives in Schubert but opted to run in the Labor-held suburban seat of Playford instead.

“She was keen to run in Playford, in terms of the issues there,” he said.

The news is not as good for another Liberal frontbencher, key moderate John Gardner, with Xenophon already confirming he would unveil a candidate for his vulnerable Morialta electorate within days.

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