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"Gutted" McFetridge quits Libs, considers independent tilt

Politics

A “shocked and gutted” Duncan McFetridge has quit the state Liberal Party and will sit on the crossbenches when parliament resumes next week.

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However, he says he is yet to make up his mind whether to stand as an independent in the seat of Morphett he has held since 2002 – when the Liberals lost power to Labor.

“I am going to the crossbench and have not made any long-term plans,” he told InDaily today by text message.

He said he was taking “a few days off” but would make a statement to parliament next week.

Insiders say he was “shocked” by the result of last month’s preselection ballot when, in a bizarre series of events, he won the first round of voting, but lost by a single vote in the second round after challenger Matt Williams – who had tied with Holdfast mayor Stephen Patterson – was eliminated by having his name drawn out of a hat.

Opposition leader Steven Marshall confirmed he had spoken to McFetridge on the weekend and had been informed that he was “not going to stay in the parliamentary Liberal Party”.

“He’s taken it fairly badly – that’s natural… this is not the way you want to end a parliamentary career,” Marshall said.

“He’s absolutely gutted with the decision and doesn’t want to sit with the parliamentary team when parliament resumes.”

Marshall, too, said his former frontbencher “hasn’t made up his mind” about running as an independent.

“I think he’s going to take some time to consider whether he does want to stand,” he said.

Marshall sacked McFetridge from his frontbench in January after 13 years in the shadow ministry, but had pledged to back him as parliamentary Speaker should the Liberals win next year’s election.

Despite suggestions of a looming challenge, 65-year-old McFetridge had long refused to countenance retirement, telling InDaily in 2015: “Frankly, after 16 years in Opposition I’d like one term in government.”

Marshall insists “Duncan wants to get rid of Labor as much as anyone in the Liberal team”, adding that there is “a huge amount of affection” for him in the partyroom, “evidenced in the fact that we all backed him”.

“But we have a democratic process and Stephen Patterson narrowly won,” he added.

“As disappointing as that is for Duncan, we’re obviously going to be backing our new Liberal candidate, who is an outstanding person in that position.”

McFetridge’s move invites comparisons with Labor maverick Frances Bedford, who in March quit the ALP after being rolled for preselection in Florey by what she dubbed “the faceless men”.

She, too, is still considering whether to stand as an independent, telling InDaily she was still canvassing the sentiment of local voters but expected to make a decision in “four to six weeks”.

She noted that having candidates “foisted” on electorates was “part of the problem”, adding: “I shouldn’t assume they want me just because I’m there.”

While Bedford and McFetridge will be sharing the lower house crossbenches, she argues “I think our situations are different”.

Despite having quit the Labor Party, Bedford insists “I don’t think independents are the answer”.

“I’m focused on [forging] a healthy two-party system, to deliver us stability and stop the internal wrangling,” she said.

Ironically, McFetridge previously spurned entreaties from the Labor Party to defect after the 2014 election, when the ALP eventually convinced Martin Hamilton-Smith to jump ship instead.

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