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Pressure intensifies on sacked Lib veteran to step aside - but he wants to be Speaker

Politics

The knives are out for Duncan McFetridge in the Liberal Party after his sudden sacking from Steven Marshall’s frontbench last week.

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Several influential party sources have told InDaily they believe the former Emergency Services spokesman should vacate his bayside seat of Morphett, as the likelihood of a challenge intensifies.

InDaily can also reveal McFetridge sought Marshall’s support for the Speaker’s role in the next parliament – if the Liberals win the March 2018 election – as a consolation for his demotion.

“He’s indicated that might be something he might nominate for going forward,” Marshall confirmed today, adding he would “absolutely” throw his support behind him.

“I think he’d do an excellent job in that area. He’s somebody with a good working knowledge of parliament and he would do that job with dignity.”

However, the Liberal leader insisted he had “absolutely not” promised McFetridge the role, which is bestowed by a vote of all lower house MPs after being nominated by the governing party.

“It’s an issue for our partyroom as to who they’d nominate [but] I certainly think he’d do a good job of it and if he [pursued] that I’d certainly look to support it if possible,” Marshall said.

McFetridge and one-time deputy Liberal leader Steven Griffiths were the casualties in last week’s frontbench reshuffle that saw young Turks Stephan Knoll and David Speirs elevated to the shadow ministry – although Griffiths has maintained a parliamentary secretary role.

Announcing the changes, Marshall told media last week that McFetridge “made it very clear that he would like to continue in the parliament, he sees that he’s got opportunities before him and I will back him in that position”.

He reiterated that stance today, telling InDaily: “I certainly support Duncan McFetridge continuing in his role as member for Morphett.”

Parliament June 8th-2231 (1)

OUSTED: McFetridge (front) and Steven Griffiths lost their frontbench portfolios last week. Photo: Nat Rogers / InDaily

But that is no guarantee, with Marshall’s own decision to cut him adrift throwing the aspiring Speaker’s already-tenuous hold on his preselection into further doubt.

Former federal MP for Hindmarsh Matt Williams has long been linked with a tilt at the seat, and it’s understood there is party support for him to nominate for state parliament.

The Advertiser reported recently Holdfast Bay mayor Stephen Patterson is also in the mix for nomination in Morphett and had not ruled out a challenge to McFetridge. InDaily has been told such a challenge would flush out other high profile contenders, likely including Williams.

But there is increasing pressure on the incumbent to stand aside given his demotion, with influential Liberal figures from both the conservative and McFetridge’s own moderate wing of the party insisting it was time for new blood.

“My view is there needs to be a change down there [Morphett], and I hope there’s a number of people who put their names up for preselection,” said one senior insider, noting McFetridge – a Hills resident – “doesn’t live in the electorate”.

“The party’s gone through some changes and reinvigorated the next generation – and I think that’s really healthy for the party – but just because you’ve taken a couple of steps in that direction doesn’t mean you’ve done enough… the more regeneration you can put into the party the better.”

High-profile figures have discussed the matter privately but it is not known whether any have conveyed their thoughts to McFetridge, who is understood to have been lobbying his local delegates for support since his sacking.

Liberal veterans Isobel Redmond, Mitch Williams, Michael Pengilly and Mark Goldsworthy have all recently confirmed their decisions to retire at the next election, but the 65-year-old McFetridge has long maintained his intention to fight on.

He told InDaily in 2015 that “frankly after 16 years in Opposition I’d like one term in government”.

Party insiders don’t expect McFetridge’s resolve to crack, with one noting “he’s not the sort of person to rethink his position… I think that’s unfortunate but that’s the fact of the matter”.

But Marshall has publicly supported him to continue, saying: “I’ll be supporting Duncan to continue in his role as member for Morphett.”

“I think it’s important you have a blend of experience and youth on the team [and] he’s in a prime position with his skills and experience to mentor the next generation,” he said.

“He’s been on the frontbench a long time and it was a tough decision [to demote him].”

McFetridge has not returned several calls from InDaily since his sacking last week, and did not respond to questions via SMS today.

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