Features Australia

Toasted Marshmallow

SA election shows Morrison the path to victory

26 March 2022

9:00 AM

26 March 2022

9:00 AM

The defeat of Liberal Premier Stephen ‘Marshmallow’ Marshall in South Australia opens a path to victory for Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the federal election but only if Morrison has the courage to follow the example of new Labor Premier Peter Malinauskas.

A Liberal defeat that presages a victory is not as contradictory as it seems. Marshall was a creature of the so-called moderate wing of the Liberal party. Malinauskas is a socially conservative Catholic who openly opposed same-sex marriage and voted against the legalisation of euthanasia and late-term abortion.

Labor presented Malinauskas as a dad who plays footy, but he is closer to former prime minister Tony Abbott and NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet than to opposition leader Anthony Albanese, who religiously attends Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

Malinauskas leads the Catholic right faction and the resignations of former treasurer Jack Snelling and former minister Don Kenyon to revive the Family First party forced his factional enemies to realise that if they wanted to win government, they would have to keep their bigotry to themselves. Labor’s cheer squad followed suit. No protesters screamed, ‘Get your rosaries off my ovaries’, those attacks are reserved for the Christian right.

Yet it was moderate Liberals who gave Malinauskas his biggest break. Attorney-General Vickie Chapman infuriated social conservatives by introducing a private member’s bill allowing abortion up to the time of birth, which was fast-tracked by Marshall. When Liberal minister David Speirs tried to limit the damage by introducing an amendment to restrict access to late-term abortion, Marshall voted against it; Malinauskas supported it. Marshall added fuel to the fire by also fast-tracking a bill on euthanasia. Not content with these legislative victories, won with the support of the Greens and Labor, moderates thwarted a move by hundreds of Christians to join the party. SA Liberal party president Legh Davis, backed by Marshall and federal government leader in the Senate Simon Birmingham, forced recent members or those seeking to join the party to declare their support for endorsed candidates.

The purge of Pentecostals infuriated Tony Pasin, the Liberal member for the federal seat of Barker, who said it bordered on religious vilification, and incensed outgoing federal Liberal MP Nicolle Flint who slammed the move as undemocratic. It also prompted the Australian Christian Lobby and Family First to target all MPs who voted in favour of late-term abortion, along with One Nation and former Family First senator Bob Day, who campaigned against the attack on Christian values.

The election results show the outcome. Three socially conservative Liberals who left the party comfortably won seats as independents. Moderate Liberals in safe seats suffered massive swings. Marshall’s claim to be a better economic manager bought him nothing. At best, the Liberals will have 15 out of 47 MPs, with Marshall in danger of losing his own seat.

The notion that Marshall should have won because he did a good job managing the pandemic is delusional. He earned the moniker Marshmallow because he hid behind his police chief who exercised draconian powers at the behest of the chief health officer, a nutty professor who famously claimed you could catch Covid from touching a football. To this day, if you test positive for Covid in South Australia you must quarantine for a week, while your close contacts must isolate for a fortnight. Who knows why? When there was no Covid in the state, Marshall tolerated business-strangling restrictions. When the state opened in late November, the combination of Omicron and crazy quarantine rules crippled the economy by forcing people into repeated isolation.

The lesson for Morrison is stark. The marginalisation of Christians in the Liberal party is a cardinal error, just as it has been for Labor, which is usually beholden to the godless Greens when in power. By bringing Christians into the Labor fold, Malinauskas has won a majority in the lower house after only one term in opposition.

Malinauskas has another lesson for Morrison. Unlike Marshall, he is pro-nuclear and has had the courage to defend the establishment of a nuclear waste repository or a nuclear power plant in South Australia, saying it could be a safe source of base-load power with zero emissions.

This is a golden, or a uranium-plated opportunity for Morrison. Albanese puts himself forward as a leader in the mould of Bob Hawke or John Howard. Not on nuclear energy, which both supported. As a student politician, Albanese was aligned with the hard Left and friendly with People for Nuclear Disarmament. In 2004, as shadow minister for environment he campaigned against nuclear power when it was raised by Howard. In 2019, he called any discussion of nuclear technology a ‘fantasy’ which his Green allies found ‘alarming’.

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has gifted Morrison the opportunity to cut energy prices in ways Albanese won’t be able to copy; extending the life of coal-fired power plants, accelerating gas plants, and fast-tracking an increase in energy exports to bolster our allies. It also allows Morrison to drive a wedge through Labor on nuclear technology by talking to Malinauskas about nuclear industry in South Australia.

Morrison also needs to address the heightened threat of conflict posed by Russia and China. With support from Malinauskas, he can put flesh on his new Aukus alliance with the US and the UK by announcing the purchase of nuclear submarines and establishing an industry to support their maintenance in South Australia. He could also start discussions with Malinauskas on safe, small-scale, fourth-generation nuclear power, based on the miniature reactors in nuclear submarines.

Albanese likes to pretend he is like Malinauskas. Hardly. While Albanese has been cosying up to communists since his days as a student politician, the Malinauskas family fled communism in eastern Europe to set up a fish and chip shop in Adelaide. Labor, under Albanese, is hostile to politicians like the late senator Kimberley Kitching and retiring MP Anthony Byrne who were among the diminishing few to criticise China because under Albanese, Australia will kowtow to China, not defend the national interest.

Morrison once said he didn’t want to fight ‘culture wars’ because they don’t deliver jobs, but if he wants to hold on to his own job, he has to make the moderates in the Liberal party recognise that unless they win the support of Christians and conservatives at the next election, the marshmallows in the party will be toast.

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