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SA election tough to predict

On the numbers, it will take little more than a two per cent swing to deliver victory to Labor over the Liberal government in South Australia’s election.

Labor needs to pick up just four Liberal seats and have other results fall their way to seize the benches.

But factor in the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, shifting electoral boundaries, a surge in pre-poll and postal voting, and a swag of high-profile independent candidates, and the result is anything but easy to predict.

In fact, the outcome of the March 19 poll may not be known for several days after election night and could come down to one of the major parties doing a deal to form a minority government.

In parliament, the Liberals hold 22 of the 47 House of Assembly seats to Labor’s 19.

There are also six independents, although three were elected as Liberals in 2018 but split from the government to sit on the cross bench for a variety of reasons.

At least two, Dan Cregan in Kavel and Fraser Ellis in Narungga, could be re-elected but the Liberals can really only count on the support of Mr Ellis to help them stay in power.

Two of the other independents, Frances Bedford and Geoff Brock, are contesting different seats after boundary changes shifted many of their supporters into neighbouring electorates.

Ms Bedford and Mr Brock would likely support Labor to form government but are not certain to be returned.

Mr Brock is up against Deputy Premier and Industry Minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan in Stuart while Ms Bedford is bidding to win Newland, the government’s most marginal seat and one clearly on Labor’s hit list.

Ms Bedford’s move has left the ALP in the box seat to win her old seat of Florey but the party also needs Newland, the northeast seat of King, inner-city seat of Adelaide and southern suburbs seat of Elder to reach the magical 24, enough to govern in its own right.

On the Liberal side, Mr Brock’s move leaves the party favoured to pick up his old seat of Frome but it still needs another Labor electorate to get it across the line, assuming it retains all its existing seats.

That could be Mawson, where more boundary changes have left Leon Bignell in a tough battle after winning by little more than 100 votes at the last election.

If you’re confused yet, it’s not surprising.

Academic Sarah Moulds says things might come down to a contest, in voters’ eyes, between the structural problems, in areas such as health, planning, economic participation and housing, associated with 16 previous years of Labor rule and more immediate problems in the same areas that will work against the Liberals.

The senior in law, justice and society at the University of South Australia believes the rise of the independents will also have an impact, with voters keen for there to be an influential crossbench in the next parliament.

“There’s a lot of South Australians who respect some of these independents even if they don’t completely agree with them,” she said.

“It’s part of a national trend.”

But Dr Moulds says while the impact of COVI-19 will clearly result in a surge in pre-poll and postal ballots, it’s more difficult to determine how the government’s response to the pandemic, will affect voting intentions.

“People do want decisive, strong action from leaders, including restrictive impacts on their life,” she said.

“But there’s a time frame on when they start to reject that and I think we’ve definitely hit that moment.”

Premier Steven Marshall has continually hailed his government’s response to the pandemic and urged voters to stick with the government, pointing to what has been achieved in the past four years.

The state has the fastest-growing economy in the nation, low unemployment and record exports.

The premier has also taken what he’s described as a prudent approach in terms of election promises, insisting, a week from the election, that the government’s sweeteners amount to less than $300 million.

For his part, Labor leader Peter Malinauskas has gone big.

On his own scorecard, the party’s pledges have hit $2.7 billion, including almost $600 million for a groundbreaking hydrogen energy plant and hundreds of millions to upgrade hospitals and employ more doctors, nurses and paramedics.

That has raised howls from the government questioning how Labor can afford such largess, something voters will likely have to wait until just before election day to find out.

In last week’s debate, Mr Marshall described this election as the most important in the history of the state and not the time to take a risk with a return to Labor rule.

“This election is about who you trust to deliver certainty and a strong future,” he said.

“The choice is extraordinarily stark.”

Mr Malinauskas said in the midst of the ongoing pandemic, the election was coming at a “truly remarkable moment”, similar to what the nation faced in the period after World War II.

“We have such a moment in time right now,” he said.

“Where the legacy of COVID is a moment in time where for just once, as a people, we decide to think about the long term, the long term for everybody’s interests.”

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