When Kevin Rudd won the 2007 federal election, the Labor party was in government in every state and territory in Australia.
The Labor party was at an unprecedented zenith, yet within months the signs of a revival in the Liberal party’s fortunes appeared to be imminent when the Liberal’s Colin Barnett was able to form a minority government in Western Australia.
With state elections looming in Tasmania, South Australia and Victoria, it appeared very likely that the Liberal party could begin its renaissance by winning government in some, if not all of the state elections due in 2010.
The Tasmanian and South Australian elections have come and gone – and with them, so, too, has the opportunity for the Liberal party to increase its total of state governments from 1 to 3.
In South Australia the Liberals under Isobel Redmond came quite close, outpolling the Labor party on primary and winning 3, possibly 4 seats.
This was not enough, however. The anti-Labor swing was strong in safe Labor and Liberal seats but, in the marginals, nowhere near enough to allow for a change of government.
In Tasmania, meanwhile, the state’s Hare-Clark proportional voting system has resulted in none of the main parties – Labor, Liberal or the Greens – being in a position to form a majority government.
After the election comes the horse-trading necessary to form a minority government.
It remains unclear just how this will pan out, and there is every chance that the ALP could do a deal with the Greens (although to do so, the party would probably have to replace its current leader David Bartlett who declared during the campaign that he would not enter in to a power sharing arrangement with Tasmania’s third party).
Liberal opposition leader, Will Hodgman, has been a little more coy over his willingness to deal with the Greens. Whether the Liberal party and the Greens could come together and deliver stable government is debatable. Mr Hodgman would have much preferred to have won government in his own right.
The anti-Labor swing in that state divided almost equally between the Greens and the Liberals. The Liberals did win a majority of the primary vote cast across the state and did secure the largest swing, however. In a very real sense, it was a case of being so close, yet so far for Mr Hodgman.
The results in both state elections will no doubt provide some comfort for Victorian Labor premier John Brumby.
Like Mike Rann in South Australia, Mr Brumby heads a government seeking to win a fourth term in an electorate that has been getting increasingly agitated.
Mr Rann has shown that the party in government can withstand strong swings against it as long as they don’t happen in marginal seats.
In all likelihood, the South Australian election has given Victorians a bit of a clue as to what might happen on 27 November.
There is little use in trying to extrapolate federal voting trends from state elections as federal issues only ever rarely intrude in to state matters (although the importance of national water policy to South Australia might have been an exception).
Both federal leaders will try to take something from these contests.
Liberal leader Tony Abbott will be greatly heartened by the swings to the Liberals in both states. Mr Rudd, on the other hand, will be relieved that Labor has managed to hang on to government, even if it is as a minority government in the case of Tasmania.
The Tasmanian and South Australian elections repeat a pattern that emerged in the 1990s when state Labor governments that had been in power for two or three terms, and who had large majorities during that time, just fell over the line when seeking a third or fourth term. In each instance, the election that followed saw the opposition party swept to power in a land-slide.
The year of election contests is not yet over and, in politics, anything can happen.
Governments have survived in two states, and this may or may not be a portent for other elections to follow.
Clearly, two elections have been completed that have shown voter disenchantment with their incumbent governments, but not to the extent necessary to bring about a set of new Liberal governments.
The Liberal party’s renewal at the state level has progressed, but not to its ultimate end-point just yet.
Dr Nick Economou is a Senior Lecturer in Politics at Monash University and a regular media comentator on Australian politics.