Following the South Australian election, the Prime Minister, John Howard, was asked about the causes of the close result.
In this extract of an interview with Laurie Oakes on Channel 9’s Sunday, Howard discusses the asylum-seeker issue, Natasha Stott Despoja’s leadership and the advantages of incumbency in what he calls this “less tribal political state”.
Transcript of Prime Minister John Howard’s interview with Laurie Oakes on Channel 9.
OAKES: Well, to politics. What do you make of the cliff-hanger result in South Australia yesterday?
HOWARD: Not a bad result for the Liberal Party considering where it was six months ago. And if in one way or another Rob Kerin ends up hanging on …
OAKES: Do you think he will?
HOWARD: I don’t know. I spoke to him last night and he really doesn’t know. The best guess at the moment is that Labor will have twenty-three, the Liberal Party and the National will be twenty-one, and there will be three Independents, all of whom have Liberal or conservative origins.
Now, what will come out of that I don’t know. There could be a change. We might pick up Norwood. The Labor Party might fluke one of the others, although I think that’s less likely. So it’s a very obscure outcome. A couple of messages. Very bad result for the Democrats, very bad, and the Democrats are suffering very badly from having been seen to have sided with the Labor Party in the last federal election.
OAKES: Do you think people remember that?
HOWARD: Oh, I think it’s one of the reasons.
OAKES: Are they disillusioned too with Natasha, do you think?
HOWARD: I think there is an element of that. I think they did have a leader of substance in Meg Lees. It never helps for the leader of another political party, I suppose, to say something (laughs) complimentary about somebody who you once dealt with as a leader, but I thought she was a person of substance.
I found her an honourable person to deal with. I’m not suggesting that Natasha’s dishonourable, don’t … I’m not saying that. But … I think people have perhaps stepped back and thought, well, gee you had a person, a woman of real substance there, and perhaps they went for appearance rather than substance, and they’ve suffered.
OAKES: Did you think the Liberals benefited exclusively from the change of leadership or did things like the asylum seekers issue and…
HOWARD: I don’t think the asylum seeker issue resonated. I think the change of leader did help because they looked as though they were going to lose prior to that. Rob Kerin is clearly very popular. I think the election also indicates another thing and that is that in all elections now in this less tribal political state in which we’re living that incumbency is a very important factor.
You saw in South Australia marginal Liberal seats with members increasing their majorities. I think a seat … I think Bright was … Stuart was one of those. And, then equally Labor incumbents increased their majority. So, unless you have a strong issue or there’s a real tide for change, people do go for incumbents.