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Bedford 'could run as an independent' in Florey

Politics

Veteran Labor backbencher Frances Bedford has not ruled out running as an independent if she is rolled for preselection in her north-eastern suburbs seat of Florey, after a challenge by Health Minister Jack Snelling.

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Bedford formally nominated for her seat yesterday afternoon, telling InDaily she “would welcome a preselection” contest, pointing out: “That’s how I was preselected to run for Florey in 1997.”

Asked if she would consider running as an independent Labor candidate if she loses her preselection for the seat she has held for two decades, she replied: “We’d have to wait and see wouldn’t we? I’d hope sanity will prevail, and they see there’s a whole pile of reasons to keep me in the tent.”

Snelling has moved in on Florey despite his current seat of Playford maintaining a comfortable 11.5 per cent margin under a proposed boundary redistribution – a redraw that Labor is contesting in the Supreme Court.

But Bedford’s factional opponents argue the boundaries commission’s final report would move 17,004 voters – more than 60 per cent of Snelling’s electorate – into Florey’s boundaries, leaving only 9690 – less than half of Bedford’s original electors – in the seat.

By this rationale, though, Bedford could well argue a claim on the seat of Wright, which is to be vacated by retiring former frontbencher Jennifer Rankine.

Rankine is set to be replaced by her former chief of staff Blair Boyer.

Snelling’s right faction colleague, former ALP state secretary Michael Brown, has nominated for the Health Minister’s former seat of Playford.

While Bedford is very much on the outer of the factional ‘machine’, one Labor source said the party should be cautious about deselecting her “if people think through the logical possibilities”.

With health a hot-button issue in the Modbury-based electorate, the party could be vulnerable to any splintering of the vote, with the prospect of a Nick Xenophon Team candidate also looming large.

But one insider noted there was a “broader principle” at play “about how the party operates”.

“Frances has been a very loyal and long-term member, who has run in a seat which has been much more marginal than the redraw now makes it – and won it for the party five times,” the source said.

“There hasn’t been any consultation with her [and] the party needs to think about that behaviour.”

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FRIENDS OR FOES? Bedford (third from right) with Labor colleagues Tung Ngo, Australian Services Union secretary Joseph Scales, Zoe Bettison, Lee Odenwalder and Russell and Dana Wortley. Photo: Facebook

Bedford threw a wrench into her party’s factional machinations by declaring this week, despite widespread expectation she would retire, that she would re-nominate in Florey – seemingly in a bid to frustrate Snelling’s designs on her seat.

She said in a statement at the time she had been made aware “prior to Christmas that Health Minister Snelling was interested in Florey [and] I subsequently informed senior ALP Party officials and PLP [parliamentary Labor Party] members that I would definitely be nominating, so I’m not sure of the origin of any uncertainty or misinformation”.

Several sources have confirmed that Bedford at the time had intimated she would only retire if the party found a winnable state seat for fellow left-winger Matthew Loader, Labor’s candidate for Sturt in last year’s federal election.

Of the seats open for nomination, only the nominally marginal Labor seat of King and newly-vacant seat of Colton (now firmly Liberal under the proposed redistribution) remain in the mix, with the former seemingly the most likely option for Loader. The central electorate of Adelaide would likely also hold some appeal, although nominations have not opened there, as it is not a Labor-held seat. But the week’s events could well prompt Bedford to see her nomination through regardless.

If neither she nor Snelling backs down, the preselection contest will be fought out next month, with a vote of Labor members in Florey constituting 25 per cent of the result and the matter to be determined at a special ALP convention on March 15.

Crucially, the members’ vote will be based on the proposed new margins for Florey, rather than the existing margins.

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