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Former Lib high-flyer joins exit queue as party seeks to end "natural gerrymander"

Politics

The generational overhaul within state Liberal ranks will continue with former deputy leader Steven Griffiths today announcing his retirement, as the party hopes it has convinced the Supreme Court to help overturn a “natural gerrymander” that has kept it out of government for a decade.

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Griffiths’ star rose swiftly but fell sharply – he became deputy leader to Isobel Redmond within three years of his election as member for Goyder in 2006, but was forced out after a series of missteps during the 2010 election campaign.

He also relinquished the key role of Shadow Treasurer after the election but has remained in lower profile shadow ministries since then, until his sacking from the frontbench last month.

Griffiths today called his decision to retire at next year’s election a difficult one, saying it came after “considerable soul searching”.

“In my near 11 years as the proud member for Goyder, I feel I have done all I can to pursue the needs and opportunities for my community,” he said.

“For 10 years I was privileged to also be a member of the Shadow Cabinet, holding various portfolios and working towards becoming a minister in a future Liberal Government – a position I strongly felt would best place me to serve the people of Goyder and open up opportunities for the region I love.

“Whilst it was therefore very disappointing to be recently removed from the Shadow Cabinet, my most fervent of desires is for the Liberal Party to win the required minimum 24 seats in March 2018 to form Government, and for Steven Marshall to be Premier.”

Marshall told InDaily he believed politics was “in many ways like a football club”.

“Sometimes you need to retire past champions to allow rookies to come through and have that renewal,” he said.

He acknowledged Griffiths – who was sidelined along with fellow veteran Duncan McFetridge in the reshuffle – “was certainly disappointed with the decision that he wouldn’t be continuing in the shadow cabinet”.

“It was a very difficult decision to make, but it was in the best interests of the team and he accepted that decision… we still have a very good working relationship,” Marshall said.

“I think he’s a capable person and very hard-working person who certainly has the best interests of his electorate at heart.

“Every time he speaks in the parliament he’s thoughtful and considered… but he’s now made a decision with his family that he doesn’t want to continue in state politics, and I respect that decision.”

There will be no shortage of candidates to fill the vacancy, with the Liberals increasingly bullish about their chances at next year’s state election, provided the redrawn electoral boundaries stand.

Yesterday the party’s lawyer Tom Duggan SC told a full bench of the Supreme Court the electoral boundaries review was designed to counteract what he described as “packing and cracking”: a traditional gerrymander whereby voters for a particular party are packed into safe rural seats and spread apart – or ‘cracked’ – across the metropolitan marginals.

“What we have in SA is exactly the same,” Duggan told the court.

“It’s not an intentional gerrymander [but] it’s a natural gerrymander… it’s just a natural failure, for the reasons explained by the [boundaries] commission.”

Labor had challenged the final redistribution on the grounds that it ignored the principle of “one vote, one value”, by shifting voter numbers around between seats – albeit within a 10 per cent tolerance allowed under law.

But dismissing Labor’s argument that the commission was beholden to ensure electorates were made up of roughly the same number of voters, Duggan insisted the principal direction of the constitution act was to ensure that the party with a statewide majority should form government.

“If you draw the boundaries as you might naturally draw them, you end up with this continued imbalance,” he said, noting it was “probably impossible to devise a formula for electoral distribution which will necessarily result in equality of voting value.”

Instead, he argued manipulating the number of voters in seats to achieve electoral fairness “can be regarded as noble”, as it was “something that can assist in setting the boundaries” to achieve electoral fairness.

Chief Justice Chris Kourakis appeared to take the argument on board in a later interjection, telling Labor’s QC Dick Whitington that “a gerrymander is often contrived to achieve what the commission says exists naturally in South Australia”.

“That was the point made by the [commission’s] report that led to these [boundary] changes… that the natural distribution of Labor and Liberal voters ensured Labor won time and time again without any contrivance,” he said.

Labor is finalising its own election candidates this week, with nominations for ALP-held seats closing on Thursday.

InDaily revealed yesterday that the factions have signed off on a deal that would see the left faction get the second and third spots on the party’s Upper House ticket, while the right were handed Frances Bedford’s newly-safe north-eastern suburbs seat of Florey.

Despite widespread suggestions former Jay Weatherill staffer Lois Boswell would get the nod, she said today she had “no intention” of putting her name forward. Sources say the second place on the ticket will be filled instead by Irene Pnevmatikos, a personal injury lawyer with Manfield & Co who also has close ties to left-wing union United Voice.

The deal will push the right’s second candidate down to fourth place on the ticket, making it a tough proposition for their nominee – said to be Jack Snelling’s former adviser Clare Scriven, who now works in the forestry sector.

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