1979 South Australian state election

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.

1979 South Australian state election

← 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
  David Tonkin.jpg Des Corcoran.jpg
Leader David Tonkin Des Corcoran
Party Liberal Labor
Leader since 24 July 1975 15 February 1979
Leader's seat Bragg Hartley
Seats before 18 seats 27 seats
Seats won 24 seats 20 seats
Seat change Increase6 Decrease7
Percentage 55.0% 45.0%
Swing Increase8.4 Decrease8.4

Premier before election

Des Corcoran

Elected Premier

David Tonkin

The Liberals originally won 25 seats, but a court decision overturned their win in Norwood. Labor won the Norwood by-election, which meant the Liberals held 24 seats, with Labor on 20 seats, and 1 each to the Australian Democrats, National Country Party, and an Independent Labor.


Premier Don Dunstan abruptly resigned on 15 February 1979 due to ill health, and was succeeded by Deputy Premier Des Corcoran. Dunstan resigned from parliament, and his seat was retained for Labor by Greg Crafter at the by-election in March 1979.

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 did not help matters that The Advertiser was biased toward the Liberal campaign.[citation needed]

Summary of resultsEdit

Labor suffered a large swing, losing seven seats (six to the Liberals, one to Independent Labor Norm Peterson). 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, the Liberals only won 13 seats in Adelaide, netting them a total of 25 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.

The Liberal majority was pared back even further after the Court of Disputed Returns struck down the result in Norwood. The court found that a Liberal Party advertisement in an Italian language newspaper, which described Liberal candidate Frank Webster as "your representative" ("il vostro deputato"), gave the false impression that Webster was the sitting member.[1] Labor regained Norwood at the 1980 Norwood state by-election, reducing the Liberals to 24 seats, just enough to govern.

In the South Australian Legislative Council, the Liberals won 6 seats, Labor won 4, and Australian Democrats won 1; giving numbers of 11 Liberal, 10 Labor and 1 Democrat, leaving the Liberal government one seat short of a majority.


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 1982, when legislation to enable the Roxby Downs uranium mine was opposed by both Labor and the Democrats, Norm Foster resigned from the Labor Party in order to support the legislation, and sat as an independent in the Legislative Council.

Key datesEdit

  • House of Assembly dissolved: 22 August 1979, 2:00pm[2]
  • Issue of writ: 27 August 1979[3]
  • Close of nominations: 5 September 1979
  • Polling day: 15 September 1979
  • Return of writ: On or before 5 October 1979


House of AssemblyEdit

These numbers include the result of the 1980 Norwood state by-election.

South Australian state election, 15 September 1979[4]
House of Assembly
<< 19771982 >>

Enrolled voters 826,586
Votes cast 769,080 Turnout 93.04 -0.33
Informal votes 34,104 Informal 4.43 +1.72
Summary of votes by party
Party Primary votes % Swing Seats Change
  Liberal 352,343 47.94 +6.73 24 + 6
  Labor 300,277 40.86 –10.78 20 – 7
  Democrats 60,979 8.30 +4.82 1 ± 0
  National Country 14,013 1.91 +0.31 1 ± 0
  Independent 7,364 1.00 +0.61 1 + 1
Total 734,976     47  
  Liberal 404,232 55.00 +8.40
  Labor 330,734 45.00 –8.40

Legislative CouncilEdit

South Australian state election, 15 September 1979[5]
Legislative Council
<< 19751982 >>

Enrolled voters 826,586
Votes cast 765,032 Turnout 92.6 –0.7
Informal votes 33,637 Informal 4.4 –0.8
Summary of votes by party
Party Primary votes % Swing Seats
  Liberal 370,398 50.6 +22.8 6 11
  Labor 290,552 39.7 –7.6 4 10
  Democrats 47,527 6.5 +6.5 1 1
  National Country 7,716 1.1 –1.0 0 0
  Marijuana 6,132 0.8 +0.8 0 0
  Other 9,070 1.3 * 0 0
Total 731,395     11 22

Post-election pendulumEdit

These numbers include the result of the 1980 Norwood state by-election.

Subsequently, the 1982 Mitcham by-election and 1982 Florey by-election were held. The Democrats retained Mitcham by 45 votes, while 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

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Red Silk: The Life of Elliott Johnston, QC, Penelope Debelle, Wakefield Press, 2011
  2. ^ Kelton, Greg (23 August 1979). "Corcoran calls snap poll". The Advertiser. p. 1.
  3. ^ "Appendix A. State of South Australia: The Electoral Act 1929-1976". The Advertiser. 28 August 1979. p. 32.
  4. ^ "Details of SA 1979 Election". Australian Politics and Elections Database.
  5. ^ "History of South Australian elections 1857-2006, volume 2 Legislative Council". ECSA. Archived from the original on 8 March 2016. Retrieved 22 May 2016.