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“Labor needs to get back to its roots”: Friendless Frances takes Snelling to task

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Labor outsider Frances Bedford has laid down the gauntlet to her newfound nemesis Jack Snelling, calling for reform of his contentious Transforming Health agenda to make it more “fair and equitable” as she ponders whether to run against him as an independent.

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The Health Minister last night officially won Labor’s endorsement to replace Bedford as the party’s candidate in her seat of Florey, which will be radically reformed by the pending boundary redistribution.

Around 17,000 electors from Snelling’s safe northern suburbs seat of Playford will be shifted into Bedford’s electorate ahead of the state election next March, but the left-wing firebrand is still weighing up whether to run as an independent in the seat she has held since 1997.

“I’m still mulling all my options over… it all depends doesn’t it?” she responded when asked by InDaily about her plans today.

Asked on what it depended, she replied: “On what I decide.”

But Bedford is understood to be incensed by her treatment at the hands of the party, which she said today needed “to get back to its roots and start engaging with the community”.

“Not just telling them what to do, but seeing what they want done,” she said.

Bedford has long cut a lonely figure on the fringe of Labor’s left faction, but her stance has left her increasingly isolated, as she weighs up whether to quit the party and stand again in Florey – a move that could cost Snelling his career if, as expected, Bedford garnered strong preference flows from the likes of the Liberals and Nick Xenophon’s SA Best.

“In the time-honoured tradition of Paul Keating, I’m going to get a dog – so I have a friend,” she told InDaily.

She said a decision could still be months away, but warned she would be taking Labor’s performance into account in the meantime – including that of her challenger Snelling.

“I still have a lot of policy areas that I’m interested in, I’m still working on those areas and if I don’t see any action on those areas I’ll be taking that into consideration,” she said.

Bedford said she wanted Labor to institute a universal ambulance subscription scheme – a move that has been hotly debated in other states after warnings from the Australian Medical Association that many patients were delaying calling an ambulance in emergencies because they worried about the cost.

Bedford said guaranteed free ambulance access in a medical emergency should form a part of Snelling’s Transforming Health reforms, and without it the program is “not going to be good enough, I think”.

“I’d urge the Government to look at it,” she said.

“It’s all very well to tell people, particularly older people, to travel to hospital if they’re unwell, but unless you’re in the ambulance scheme you have to pay for that at the end.

“Other states have seen the need to make it universal, and I think that’s something we need to do to make sure Transforming Health is fair and equitable for everybody.”

Bedford denied she was handing Snelling a policy ultimatum, insisting: “I’m not saying that at all.”

“I’m just doing what any normal member of parliament does, and addressing issues in their areas,” she said.

Her Florey sub-branch – which is regularly active in policy debates at Labor’s annual conference – has now been divided between her existing seat and neighbouring Labor-held Wright and Newland, prompting speculation she could also run in the latter to cause “maximum chaos”.

Bedford said the now-splintered sub-branch had been a model for what Labor should be, arguing the “proportion of our [policy] ideas to the rest of the Labor Party is telling”.

“The Florey sub-branch [were] a great bunch of people who have a great bunch of ideas, and that’s how the Labor Party should operate,” she said.

I started as a community activist, there’s no way I’ll be stopping

The party machine has been in full throttle since her threat to stand as an independent, revealed by InDaily last month.

It’s understood Tony Zappia’s federal seat of Makin has been thrown up in discussions as the influential faction of Progressive Left Unions and Sub-Branches tries to appease the disgruntled Industrial Left splinter group, with which Bedford is loosely affiliated.

But Zappia, 64, has told InDaily he intends to stand again at the next federal poll – assuming the seat is not usurped by a rumoured commonwealth redistribution.

Bedford said there had been a strong “community reaction” to suggestions she could run as an independent, and “I have to monitor all that”.

“It [the election] is a year away, so who knows what will happen?” she said.

“I’m still going to be very active in the community… it just depends how everything travels.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen in the Government.”

She suggested “if they do really, really well and everyone’s happy with them” her candidacy may not be necessary – and she was “concentrating on what I’m going to be doing in the next six months”.

“I won’t even be thinking about it for six months – I’ve got a pile of things I need to finish, do and start, and they’re the sorts of things I’m interested in doing and starting.

“In some ways what’s happened is immaterial to me – I started as a community activist, there’s no way I’ll be stopping,” she said.

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Health Minister Jack Snelling and Premier Jay Weatherill taking media through the new hospital last week. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

Snelling did the radio rounds today to mark the technical completion of the controversial and long-delayed new Royal Adelaide Hospital, telling ABC Adelaide he had “never ever taken my existing seat of Playford for granted”.

There’s no doubt Frances Bedford is an extremely popular and hard working local MP

“And I’ll be campaigning extremely hard over the next 12 months to win the trust of both the two thirds of the new seat of Florey that I currently am the member for and the additional one third which I’m going to pick up,” he said.

“There’s no doubt that Frances Bedford is an extremely popular and hard working local member of parliament [but] let’s just see what happens on election day.”

On FIVEaa, he insisted “Frances and I have a very, very good relationship… and we’ll work these issues out”.

“I know Frances has enormous loyalty and has always been incredibly loyal and worked very, very hard at the local party and there’s no reason to think that she wouldn’t continue to do that,” he said.

“Frances has been a member of the Labor Party [since] before I was born, and certainly she’s been an active member of the Labor Party much longer than I have, and I have no reason to think that that would change.”

InDaily has sought comment about the prospect of a universal ambulance subscription scheme.

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