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Labor targets Lib rising star as it prepares election battleground

Politics

Labor has set its sights on toppling a rising star on Steven Marshall’s frontbench, while seeking to exploit the candidacy of disgruntled former Liberal Duncan McFetridge in Morphett, as the party today confirmed new candidates in four key seats it will target strongly in the lead-up to the March election.

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Labor’s state executive this morning met to confirm industrial entrepreneur Randall Wilson as its candidate in the new seat of Black, which replaces the former seat of Mitchell, environmental consultant Mark Siebentritt in the bayside Morphett and Tea Tree Gully councillor Peter Field in Morialta.

Former federal candidate Matt Loader will take on Liberal leader Marshall in his marginal eastern suburbs seat of Dunstan, as previously flagged by InDaily.

For the past two elections, the ALP has held onto office by sandbagging Labor-held marginals, but has failed to pick up any new seats from the Liberal Party since 2006.

But after a major redistribution of the electoral boundaries – which the party unsuccessfully challenged in the Supreme Court – Labor will need to target new seats for the first time in more than a decade.

As InDaily previously revealed, it has already preselected Jo Chapley in Adelaide.

The confirmation of candidates in another four seats suggests areas the party will be targeting strongly, either to try and win outright or prompt a clear three-cornered contest, leaving the door open for an independent or third-party victory.

That is likely the case in Morphett, where incumbent McFetridge – who lost his party’s nomination by a single vote in April – has confirmed he will run as an independent.

Labor’s candidate in the bayside seat is the director of the environmental consulting business he started in 2010, after a long career across both public and private sectors.

But it is in Black that Labor is hoping to make the biggest mark, with the seat’s candidate carrying a personal endorsement from Premier Jay Weatherill, who has “known him for 20 years”.

“He’s a really powerful candidate,” Weatherill told InDaily of Wilson, a mechanical tradesman who has worked in both mining and medical supplies.

After a stint at Roxby Downs, he trained apprentices in Adelaide before starting work in a business manufacturing medical devices. He has since started his own business making specialised mining equipment and components for medical and dental devices.

“He’s a self-made sort of person… from my perspective he’s a male version of [Fisher MP] Nat Cook, in that he has quite deep ties to the community,” Weatherill said.

Labor insiders believe Black, with a nominal 2.6 per cent Liberal margin, is particularly vulnerable.

It will be contested for the Liberals by recently promoted frontbencher David Speirs after his seat of Bright was effectively abolished in the redistribution.

But ALP sources point out the electorate covers similar ground to the federal seat of Kingston, arguing if you transpose the vote from federal booths the party got a strong 57 per cent in the seat.

“We believe Speirs is vulnerable,” said one insider.

ALP state secretary Reggie Martin told InDaily: “They’re all winnable seats that we’ll be campaigning very hard in.”

At 11.6 per cent, Morialta is a less likely prospect for Labor, but Liberal insiders have privately suggested it is vulnerable to the surging Xenophon party SA Best, meaning a strong Labor vote could help swing the seat away from the Liberals on preferences.

Incumbent Liberal frontbencher John Gardner was even targeted by a short-lived attempt at a preselection coup, with right-wingers in the party believing he is the wrong fit for an electorate now effectively part of the Adelaide Hills suite of seats that will be strongly contested by Xenophon candidates.

Loader, a left-winger and onetime confidant of renegade now-Independent Frances Bedford, ran for Labor against Christopher Pyne in Sturt in last year’s federal election, achieving a swing of more than four per cent.

Bedford had previously fought a factional stoush to get him a seat in the Legislative Council, but Loader denied a face-off against the Liberal leader in Dunstan was a consolation prize.

“Certainly not,” he said.

“I ran in the eastern suburbs in the federal election, and I think we can translate that success into Dunstan… it’s an area I’ve got a strong attachment to.”

Asked about the chances of ousting the Liberal leader from the seat he holds with a nominal 3.9 per cent margin, Loader said: “Well, it’s a marginal seat, and I think the people of Dunstan have a good idea of the types of things they believe in.”

“They don’t like austerity politics, an they don’t want flip-flopping and policy vacuums on a whole range of issues,” he said in a pointed dig at Marshall.

“I certainly believe it’s a winnable seat.”

Asked if the Dunstan campaign was a strategic effort to ensure Marshall had to put time into campaigning in his own backyard, Loader said “the party strategy is to try and get the best candidate in every seat we can, and run a strong campaign.”

“The party has determined that I’m the best candidate, and I’ll be running the best campaign I possibly can.”

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