South Australian state election, 1979

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South Australian state election, 1979
South Australia
← 1977 15 September 1979 (1979-09-15) 1982 →

All 47 seats in the South Australian House of Assembly
24 seats were needed for a majority
11 (of the 22) seats in the South Australian Legislative Council
  First party Second party
  Liberal placeholder.png Labor placeholder-01.png
Leader David Tonkin Des Corcoran
Party Liberal Labor
Leader since 1975 15 February 1979
Leader's seat Bragg Hartley
Last election 17 seats 27 seats
Seats won 26 seats 21 seats
Seat change Increase6 Decrease6
Percentage 55.0% 45.0%
Swing Increase8.4 Decrease8.4

Premier before election

Des Corcoran

Elected Premier

David Tonkin

State elections were held in South Australia on 15 September 1979. All 47 seats in the South Australian House of Assembly were up for election. The incumbent Australian Labor Party led by Premier of South Australia Des Corcoran was defeated by the Liberal Party of Australia led by Leader of the Opposition David Tonkin.

A Norwood by-election was held due to the seat's election result being overturned by a court decision, which saw the seat lost from the Liberals to Labor, which meant the Liberals held 24 seats with Labor on 20 seats.

House of Assembly (IRV) — Turnout 93.04% (CV) — Informal 4.43%
Party Votes  % Swing Seats Change
  Liberal Party of Australia 352,343 47.94 +6.73 24 +7
  Australian Labor Party 300,277 40.86 -10.78 20 -7
  Australian Democrats 60,979 8.30 +4.82 1 0
  National Country Party 14,013 1.91 +0.31 1 0
  Independent 7,364 1.00 +0.61 1 +1
  Total 734,976     47
  Liberal Party of Australia WIN 55.00 +8.40 26 +6
  Australian Labor Party 45.00 -8.40 21 -6

Independent: Norm Peterson


Premier Don Dunstan abruptly resigned on 15 February 1979 due to ill health, and was succeeded by Deputy Premier Des Corcoran.

Spurred by positive opinion polls and seeking to escape the shadow of Dunstan, Corcoran called a snap election (without pre-informing the party apparatus) in order to gain a mandate of his own. The election campaign was plagued by problems, which allowed an opening for the Liberals under Tonkin. It didn't help matters that The Advertiser was biased toward the Liberal campaign.

Labor suffered a large swing, losing eight seats to the Liberals. The Liberals also won 55 percent of the two-party vote to Labor's 45 percent. In most of Australia, this would have been enough for a landslide Liberal victory. However, most of the Liberal margin was wasted on massive landslides in rural areas. The Liberals only won 13 seats in Adelaide, netting them a total of 26 seats, a bare majority of two. Narrow as it was, it was the first time the main non-Labor party in South Australia had won the most seats while also winning a majority of the vote since the Liberal and Country League won 50.3 percent of the two-party vote in 1959.

Corcoran was bitter in defeat, believing sections of the ALP had undermined him during the campaign. He resigned as leader soon after the election, and retired from politics in 1982.

In the South Australian Legislative Council, the sole balance of power was held unbroken by the Australian Democrats from their inception in mid-1970s, until the late 1990s. Though the Democrats would exceed 16 percent of the vote at the 1997 election, during the following term the Democrats would lose the sole balance of power for the first time, sharing the balance of power with independent members, slowly losing numbers and influence, until they were eventually without parliamentary representation as of the 2010 election.

Post-election pendulum[edit]

One of the seats lost to the Liberals had been Dunstan's old seat of Norwood. However, in 1980, a court overturned Liberal Frank Webster's victory, triggering a 1980 Norwood by-election. Greg Crafter regained the seat for Labor, reducing the Liberal government to 24 seats, a one-seat majority. A 1982 Mitcham by-election and 1982 Florey by-election were triggered, the Democrats retained Mitcham by 45 votes, Labor increased their margin in Florey.

Henley Beach Bob Randall LIB 1.0%
Mawson Ivar Schmidt LIB 3.0%
Todd Scott Ashenden LIB 4.6%
Brighton Dick Glazbrook LIB 4.7%
Morphett John Oswald LIB 5.3%
Mount Gambier Harold Allison LIB 5.6%
Newland Brian Billard LIB 5.9%
Fairly safe
Mallee Peter Lewis LIB 7.3% v NAT
Eyre Graham Gunn LIB 9.9%
Torrens Michael Wilson LIB 10.1%
Coles Jennifer Adamson LIB 12.0%
Rocky River John Olsen LIB 13.1%
Chaffey Peter Arnold LIB 13.8%
Hanson Heini Becker LIB 14.5%
Murray David Wotton LIB 15.9%
Glenelg John Mathwin LIB 17.2%
Light Bruce Eastick LIB 17.2%
Victoria Allan Rodda LIB 18.0%
Fisher Stan Evans LIB 18.7%
Bragg David Tonkin LIB 21.5%
Alexandra Ted Chapman LIB 24.0%
Kavel Roger Goldsworthy LIB 24.3%
Goyder Keith Russack LIB 27.1%
Davenport Dean Brown LIB 29.7%
Ascot Park John Trainer ALP 1.7%
Unley Gil Langley ALP 2.3%
Norwood* Greg Crafter ALP 3.1%
Florey Harold O'Neill ALP 3.7%
Albert Park Kevin Hamilton ALP 3.9%
Mitchell Ron Payne ALP 4.3%
Hartley Des Corcoran ALP 5.1%
Playford Terry McRae ALP 5.1%
Gilles Jack Slater ALP 5.4%
Baudin Don Hopgood ALP 5.7%
Fairly safe
Peake Keith Plunkett ALP 7.8%
Napier Terry Hemmings ALP 9.5%
Price George Whitten ALP 10.5%
Adelaide Jack Wright ALP 10.7%
Salisbury Lynn Arnold ALP 10.8%
Elizabeth Peter Duncan ALP 10.9%
Whyalla Max Brown ALP 16.7%
Stuart Gavin Keneally ALP 17.0%
Ross Smith John Bannon ALP 18.4%
Spence Roy Abbott ALP 20.2%
Mitcham Robin Millhouse DEM 4.7% v LIB
Semaphore Norm Peterson IND 12.2% v ALP
Flinders Peter Blacker NCP 20.1% v LIB

Legislative Council results[edit]

1979 Legislative Council Result)
Party Seats
  Liberal Party of Australia 50.6% 6
  Australian Labor Party 39.7% 4
  Australian Democrats 6.5% 1
  National Country Party 1.1% 0
  Australian Marijuana Party 0.8% 0
1979-1982 Legislative Council
Party Seats
  Liberal Party of Australia 11
  Australian Labor Party 10
  Australian Democrats 1

For this election, the electoral system used for the Legislative Council was a party-list proportional representation system, with elements of the single transferable vote. Voters voted preferentially for party lists. All parties below the threshold of 50% of the Droop quota had their votes transferred to the next preference on the ballot paper for a party above the threshold. Seats were then distributed to parties using the largest remainder method with the Droop quota.

The two Liberal Movement members elected in 1975 had rejoined the Liberal Party.

In 1982, Labor MLC Norm Foster resigned from the Labor Party (to vote in favour of the Olympic Dam development) and sat the remainder of his term (until the 1982 election) as an independent.

See also[edit]