Slings and Arrows: The Mr X Hex Looming Over Labor and Liberals

In just over eight months South Australians will have ‘Weatherill-ed’ the agony of yet another long season of pledges, cant and humbug, and the state election will have concluded.

It’s going to be an anxious lead-up for marginal seat MPs of Adelaide’s establishment party duopoly, ever since Nick Xenophon did that ABC radio interview on March 6. It had all the features of the way that Napoleon Bonaparte once instilled terror into propped-up politicians and unprepared generals as news broke he was coming their way. Here’s a local version:

There’s an Adelaide panic rising for the word is getting out
That Labor and the Liberals sense an Adelaide rout
A backyard movement’s growing — they’ve all just had enough
Of vanilla politicians with their snouts deep in the trough
So when they get into the polling booth, they’ll apply a hex
And vote with hope for other folks endorsed by Mr X.

Scanning the field

But here we are, close to the election, and the field remains unclear. In May this year the heat began rising, as robocalls invaded homes across the very marginal electorate of Adelaide, held by Liberal Rachel Sanderson. One call focused on Labor’s Adelaide candidate Jo Shipley’s chances of winning. It first asked about the election’s likely outcome in relation to the high price of electricity, and probed whether voters were more concerned about the money or the carbon-saving issue. The next topic: would the voter support Liberal or Labor or the Xenophon candidate — unnamed, because no-one had been announced at the time. That fact alone illustrates both major parties’ fear and loathing about the prospect of an X factor (any X factor) redirecting voting preferences away from the usual suspects.

Suspicious people

“Suspicious people may often be identified by their behaviour. Whilst no singular behaviour activity is proof that someone is planning to act inappropriately, trust your instinct. If it seems odd, it probably is.”

Thus advised a Stadium Management Authority warning to supervisors at the June 1 Oval game. Clearly, there is fear and loathing everywhere. The National Terrorism Threat Advisory System uses an acronym ‘HOT-ALERTS-UP’:

“H — Is it hidden? O — Is it obviously suspicious? T — Is it typical? ALE — Is the alert level elevated? RT — Is the stadium in receipt of a threat? S — I s a suspicious item observed in a sensitive location? U — Has there been unauthorised access? P — Has there been a perimeter breach?”

Applying the test

This is sound advice. And while ‘nutter terror’ is a serious matter, South Australia’s terror that the election will change nothing is as palpably serious. Ash sought wider application and tested the acronym against the lead-up to the state election.

H — Is it hidden? Yes, hidden agendas everywhere and woeful absence of government or opposition solutions to the nation’s highest level of unemployed.

O — Is it obviously suspicious? Are the Kennedys gun shy?

T — Is it typical? Unfortunately, utterly typical. Even the contempt for ministerial responsibility has been elevated to ‘typical’ (as opposed to historically atypical).

ALE — Is the alert level elevated? Certainly, and no amount of ale is calming the nerves.

RT — Is the state in receipt of a threat? Same pickle this time next year? Give us a break!

S — Is a suspicious item observed in a sensitive location? Most state electorates are currently highly sensitive, especially Adelaide, and new candidates unfortunately all carry the tag of suspicious item, especially regarding to whom they might direct preferences. Additionally, whoever becomes an X candidate in your patch will be the least-scrutinised among the field, given the Xenophon habit of striking as late as possible.

U — Has there been unauthorised access? Too right. Robo-calls that don’t identify the people who paid for them, and don’t thank you when they’ve finished probing your dinner time peace.

P — Has there been a perimeter breach? In Ash’s house? Oh, most definitely.

Spending more time with the family

A high-odds formation of a 2018–22 coalition state government of seriously incompatible bedfellows may be all the impetus necessary for a very tired premier to announce a post-election retirement plan (‘spending more time with the family’, etc) contrary to what is assumed in his electorate of Cheltenham. His margin (14.6%) gives his party all the safe, postelection wriggle room it wants (with party loyalists lining up). Right next door (Croydon, margin 18.8%) there’s anointed leader-in-waiting (candidate Peter Malinauskas, MLC), cooling his heels.

If Labor does win enough seats to be asked to form minority government, Premier Peter’s first year in the lower house could end up enduring the perfect storm. All the old guard in retirement, but more ‘wicked problems’ to address than ever before? Peter was school captain back in the day, so he’d know all about managing a rabble.

Ash Whitefly is Executive Director of the Adelaide Whitefly Institute of Diplomatic Studies.

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