The coalition is entering a fortnight of federal parliament after a weekend of mixed blessings, including a state election win in Tasmania and a knife-edge likely loss in South Australia.
It was widely expected Labor would lose government in Tasmania after 16 years in power.
But the outcome in SA was a surprise, given the Liberals were expected to romp home.
Labor industry spokesman Kim Carr said South Australians were concerned about the loss of car industry jobs ahead of manufacturing plant closures by Holden, Toyota and Ford.
Senator Carr wants the next state poll in Victoria, where there is also a strong car making sector, to be a referendum on federal manufacturing policy.
“We’re seeing the situation in both South Australia and in Victoria where the coalition essentially is taking people for granted,” he said.
But Senior Liberal frontbencher Christopher Pyne said Labor was “deluding” itself if it thought the narrow result in SA was about the coalition’s industry policy.
“I think it is a sad indictment on the Labor Party,” he told ABC radio on Monday.
The SA Liberals so far have 44.3 per cent of first preference votes, ahead of Labor with 36.7 per cent.
But Labor is leading in 23 seats in the 47-seat SA lower house while the Liberals have 22 seats.
The close result has given two independents a box seat in the creation of the new government.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has warned the independents SA voters will feel cheated if Labor is returned to power, particularly given the Liberals were also ahead on a two-party basis.
The two kingmakers – Bob Such and Geoff Brock – will meet with SA Liberals leader Steve Marshall on Monday.
SA Labor senator Penny Wong said the independents won’t take kindly to attempts to “bully” them.
She also defended the SA electoral system against calls for reform, saying voters in key marginal seats had simply decided to support sitting Labor members.
Federally, the coalition is ahead of Labor 52-48 per cent in two-party terms, Monday’s Nielsen poll published by Fairfax Media shows.
As MPs flew into Canberra for two weeks of sittings, Labor was expected to continue to hammer its message about the government putting jobs at risk and planning harsh cuts to health and education spending.
Mr Abbott will spend this week talking up the government’s plans to cut business red tape and taxes and boost trade and investment.
With two state elections out of the way, attention now turn to the WA Senate election re-run on April 5.
Labor is keen to secure two eats after winning only one in the initial 2013 poll, while the Liberals want to hold onto three of the six up for grabs.