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Or even a single seat in a by-election? How many elections now is it since the Liberals had a victory? (Not counting the minority government of Colin Barnett in WA).

For non-Australian readers, the Liberals are the conservative party in Australia – we’re on the opposite side of the world, so this is perfectly logical, really.

But some things to note about the Frome by-election (South Australia’s first since 1994).

First, it may still be too close to call, with only thirty votes between the leading candidates, and the certainty of a recount.

Second, there were three conservative candidates: the Liberal Party’s Terry Boylan, the National’s Neville Wilson, and popular Mayor of Port Pirie, the independent Geoff Brock. The conservative vote was thus split three ways. The National Party candidate directed preferences to Geoff Brock, who appears to have won the seat. If those preferences had been given to Terry Boylan, he would have won comfortably.

Third, despite Premier Mike Rann’s claim that the result (the first ever loss of a by-election in SA by the opposition) is devastating for the Liberals, there was a net loss of 16% in the Labor Party vote.

While losing the seat is disappointing for the Liberal party, the result, with its massive loss in the primary Labor vote, is surely much more concerning for the Labor Party.  A swing of even half this amount across the state would see the return of the Liberals to power.

That said, this does confirm there are some real issues for the Liberals. The Liberal Party, both state and federal, has continuing difficulties finding credible leadership, and maintaining clear policies which are distinguishable from those of the Labor Party.

To regain their position as the pre-eminent political force in Australia, the Liberals need: strong leadership; clear and consistent conservative policies; to reinvigorate their partnership with the Nationals; to take more note of local issues; and to be more open to fielding popular local candidates.

Simple really.

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