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Bob Such's lone stand

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Despite spending more than 25 years in State parliament, Bob Such never quite fitted the mould.

As MPs from all sides line up to speak so kindly of his contribution, the late Dr Such would be bemused by their words, a former colleague told InDaily.

“He wasn’t a factional player, he wasn’t a ‘party at all costs’ bloke – he was someone who thought his job was to represent the 25,000 voters of his electorate and not many MPs have that sort of focus,” said the colleague, who asked not to be named.

“That’s why he was so hurt by the personal campaign waged against him by the Libs in the 2014 election.”

It wasn’t the first time that Such had felt the heat from factional players in party politics.

His three years as a minister in the Brown Government were clouded by the background stoush between leadership aspirant John Olsen and incumbent Premier Dean Brown.

Such backed his boss and when Olsen deposed Brown in 1996, he was moved to the back bench.

“The Olsen government had a different focus,” he told me several years ago.

“Many of its members had an eye on the benefits of office as much as they had an eye on the responsibilities of office.”

Most expected Such to fade out of state politics when former Liberal federal MP Susan Jeanes stood against him for pre-selection in 2000.

Such quit the Liberal Party, but then decided to stand as an independent and he held his seat in 2002.

Such had garnered 33 per cent of the primary vote and won with the benefit of Labor preferences.

In that election the Liberals had placed him fifth on the ticket, behind the Labor candidate.

In 2002 he was one of three elected independent MPs to hold the balance of power.

When another former Liberal, Peter Lewis, chose to support a Labor government under Mike Rann, he was courted by Labor and ignored by the Liberals.

When Lewis became a problem for Labor, they turned to Such and offered him the Speaker’s job which he held from 2005 to 2006.

Eight years down the track and Such’s seat again became a key number in the battle for power as the Liberals were getting close to reclaiming government.

The campaign in Fisher was tough – one that Such thought was too tough.

The Liberals  “have been promoting untruths that clearly are meant to mislead,” he told InDaily in February.

He was upset that Liberal campaign material claimed that he was “likely to put Labor back in to Government” despite his statement in January that “I’m not committing to either party”.

He won the seat – comfortably. Then, the Libs’ campaign looked set to bounce back on them when Such was left with the balance of power along with another independent Geoff Brock.

The Liberals had 22 seats; Labor had 23.

When Such’s brain tumour was diagnosed, he took sick leave. Brock sided with Labor and Jay Weatherill formed government.

Such retreated to home and Flinders Medical Centre to undergo heavy medical treatment .

Those close to him say that the pain of the 2014 election campaign was just as painful as his cancer treatment.

“He was really upset; it was the one thing that had really hit him hard, because he never understood that sort of behaviour,” a former staff member told InDaily.

“One thing that always stays with me about Bob was his refusal to ever issue a negative press release or statement; he didn’t believe that you gained anything by attacking someone.

“If you look at his time in office, that was his style – nothing negative.

“He was never a factional political player, never a party-first at all costs person and he never understood all the negative passions of state politics.”

The Mayor of Marion, Felicity-Ann Lewis, has a similar view.

“He had a very different understanding of his brief as a state MP,” Lewis told InDaily Monday.

“When he took up an issue or supported you, you always felt that he was part of the solution.

“He stayed connected to the community and applied local government principles more than state government principles.

Lewis believes that Bob Such didn’t move too far from the approach he had as a councillor at the City of Mitcham in the 1980s.

“I think that he developed his sense of duty in that context and stayed with it all through.

“Many people who go from local government to state government forget where they com from; they get tied up in that’s going on above them and Bob didn’t do that.

“In that sense he didn’t fit the State MP mould.”

Former independent MP Kris Hanna, who will soon replace Lewis as Marion Mayor, agrees.

“He was local a MP and he was quite affronted as some of the abuse he copped from MPs on both sides of the chamber, but especially the Libs,” he said.

“He made a contribution through his independence.”

So, after 25 years in State parliament, it is worth noting that Such was a Liberal MP for 11 of those years and an independent for 14.

A former teacher, he gained his “Dr” tag by completing a PhD in Environmental Politics from Flinders University.

It focussed on the emerging influence of the Greens in Australian politics.

He loved his garden and travelled widely.

Such’s brain tumour had spread rapidly after the initial diagnosis in March and he passed away at Daw House Hospice on Saturday.

Very quickly, the focus turned to the looming by-election and what it means for the balance of power in state parliament.

That wouldn’t surprise him one little bit.

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