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A few tinnies short of a slab: Who’s really the ‘local’ in key by-election?

The “local” factor killed off a previous Liberal campaign in Dunstan thanks in large part to a tricky question from Matthew Abraham, who takes a closer look at the candidates lining up for the major parties in the impending by-election.

Feb 02, 2024, updated Feb 02, 2024
Labor's Cressida O'Hanlon is familiar to Dunstan locals from her attempt in 2022 to win the seat, which came within a whisker of succeeding. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Labor's Cressida O'Hanlon is familiar to Dunstan locals from her attempt in 2022 to win the seat, which came within a whisker of succeeding. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

The $20 slab of beer moment is one on-air gaffe that refuses to drown in its own sorrows.

In a previous life, behind the microphone, I took an innocent stab at the price of a slab of beer. Twenty dollars sounded about right.

It was so wildly off the money listeners never let me forget it. Nobody ever cut me any slack for being a one-tin screamer on Coopers Light.

Even years afterwards, if a techy or camera person spotted me walking towards them down the corridor at the ABC in Collinswood, they’d dig into their pocket, produce a $20 note and say: “Hey Matt, can you pick me up one of those $20 slabs?”

Laugh, they could have cried. So, this is what an Orange Lane moment feels like?

It’s no secret that back in 2006, I played a not insignificant role in ruining AFL champion Nigel Smart’s chances of winning the seat of Norwood.

In a classic “gotcha” question, I asked if he’d visit the Orange Lane Markets during his campaign. He said indeed he would. He was looking forward to it.

The star blow-in didn’t know what every voter in Norwood did know – the happy little Orange Lane Markets had been controversially closed down, replaced by a joyless Centrelink office block.

Smart was walloped by former Norwood Mayor and sitting Labor MP Vini Ciccarello in the 2006 election.

As a candidate, he ticked all the boxes, except one. He wasn’t a local. That’s not a sin. But if you’re not a local, don’t pretend to be one.

In the end, it probably wouldn’t have mattered. The Liberals led by Rob Kerin got mugged by Labor Premier Mike Rann in 2006, losing five seats, leaving them with just 15 in a 47-seat House of Assembly. It was the worst Liberal result in South Australian history.

Norwood is now Dunstan and is heading toward a by-election after the announcement last week by the sitting member, former oncer Liberal Premier Steven Marshall, that he is quitting.

He still hasn’t let us in on the small matter of when he will formally notify the Speaker Dan Cregan. Need to know basis, obviously.

Once he does, Cregan will pull the lever that sets the by-election machine in motion.

Labor wasted no time rubber-stamping Cressida O’Hanlon as its candidate. She almost took the seat off Marshall at the 2022 state election, shredding the margin to a wafer-thin 0.6 per cent.

O’Hanlon is a “local” – she’s a small business owner who lives in the electorate. But as she admitted to Stacey Lee on FIVEaa, she grew up in Sydney and moved there from NSW about 11 years ago. Local enough for Labor.

In a rare but welcome moment of clarity, the Liberals also acted quickly, preselecting lawyer and former ministerial adviser Dr Anna Finizio.

Finizio ticks all the right boxes as a star candidate. Except one. She’s not a local.

Anna Finizio on her Facebook page, meeting the locals at Glynburn Gourmet.

Labor has been furiously spinning the fact that Finizio claimed to be a proud Westie when running unsuccessfully against Labor’s Mark Butler in the seat of Hindmarsh in the 2022 federal election.

Back then she was one of three “captain’s pick” candidates chosen by the Liberal state executive to contest federal seats in SA.

Her ABC bio for that campaign still says she “grew up and lives in Adelaide’s western suburbs”. The locals seemed unimpressed.

The Liberal primary vote went backwards in Hindmarsh, with a 4.1 per cent swing against Finizio, with almost all the lost votes going to One Nation.

At a media conference held on The Parade in Norwood on Monday, Liberal leader David Speirs chose his words carefully.

Stopping short of calling her a local, he said she was “firmly part of this community here in Adelaide’s eastern suburbs”.

“She lives locally, is actively involved in the community… this is an area where she has family,” he said.

Even Finizio danced around the L-word.

“I am young, I am fresh, I am energetic,” she told journalists. “I’m ready to join David and his young and dynamic team. I think people want politicians who are real and authentic.”

Responding to questions, she said she was 37, single and now lived on The Parade, gesturing up the road.

But on the question of her move from contesting a western suburbs seat to an eastern suburbs seat in the space of barely 20 months, she replied: “I have lived in this electorate before: I spent a number of years in Kensington Gardens.”

“I’m connected through the community,” she said. “I’m here at the gym every day. I’ve got my local barista around the corner.

“I’m deeply entrenched in the community… I went to school around the corner here.”

What school?

“Annesley College.”

Now, the seat of Dunstan is jam-packed with many fine schools, both public and private. But Annesley College isn’t one of them.

It fronts Greenhill Road in Wayville. It closed its secondary campus in 2011 and is now an early learning and primary school.

Annesley, a 500-metre, parklands stroll to the CBD, might have been “around the corner” from Dunstan if you were being dropped off at the gates in the Range Rover.

But Norwood High it ain’t.

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The school is in Unley, another super-marginal Liberal seat with the sitting MP David Pisoni also overdue to pull the pin.

In a state-wide election, the “local” factor gets lost in the static.

Many SA state and federal MPs live well outside their electorates. Redistributions sometimes see their electorates move away from them.

It’d be unfair to expect them to buy and sell houses just to keep track of SA’s too-frequent, often erratic boundary redraws.

And many just choose to live somewhere nicer.

When first elected, Rann lived in a sprawling house on a double block in his northern suburbs, working-class seat of Briggs, now Ramsey.

The late John Bannon, when Labor leader, once ribbed him: “I know you said you were going to live in your electorate Mike, you didn’t say your house would cover half of it.”

When Rann eventually shifted to live close to Norwood as Premier, it was a non-issue to the voters of Ramsey.

But by-elections, particularly in a seat like Dunstan, are pressure cookers. It’s easy to get burnt.

Finizio has enough genuine Dunstan connections to push back against Labor’s “local” spin. It’s her leader who might need to keep it local.

On Thursday, Speirs was about as far from The Parade as his driver could take him, leading a three-day “grassroots community listening tour” with his entire parliamentary team in Kingscote.

On Twitter, now X, a purported Liberal insider under the pseudonym Ghost of Tom Playford posted: “We have a by-election coming up in the most marginal seat in the State, so we’ve decided to head south 190km from Dunstan to a safe Labor seat and campaign there.”

Replying, Thinker in Precedent, otherwise known as Kevin Naughton, a former adviser to both Liberal and Labor Ministers, asked: “Was that at the request of the Dunstan candidate?”

Ouch.

Michael Pratt, aka Pratty, former Liberal MP for the federal seat of Adelaide, thinks the “local” issue is a load of cobblers.

He tells me he has a sponsor to fund 1000 “I will fix ramping” posters featuring Premier Peter Malinauskas that will be plastered around every polling booth in Dunstan. The Liberals will also hire an “Ash the Ambo” to appear at shopping centres. And Pratty will be driving around the electorate in a vehicle “wrapped” with the same message.

“It will be a negative campaign,” Pratt says. “The Liberals don’t have to prove anything. Who’s the best at hustling? Labor. Copy them.”

Speaking of X, former Labor Attorney General and Speaker Mick Atkinson, had his own Orange Lane question for me this week.

The wily Atkinson, and his partner former Labor MP Jennifer Rankine, worked hard on O’Hanlon’s campaign to go within a whisker of taking the seat in 2022.

“I suppose the Where is Orange Lane and what should happen with it? Question is passé,” he tweeted to my alter ego, Kevin Corduroy.

The campaign’s barely begun, Mick. Here’s 20 bucks. Buy yourself a slab.

Matthew Abraham is InDaily’s political columnist. Matthew can be found on Twitter as @kevcorduroy. It’s a long story.

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