Liberal insiders have begun hatching a plan to parachute star federal backbencher Matt Williams into the safe bayside seat of Morphett if he is not returned at next year’s election.
But the notion would hinge on convincing that seat’s incumbent, Opposition frontbencher Duncan McFetridge, that his time is up – and he says he’s not going anywhere.
“I’ve heard that suggested, yes,” McFetridge said when questioned by InDaily about the possibility of Williams taking his state seat.
“I’ve no intention of stepping down at this stage.”
He said he intended to serve what would be his fifth term “unless there’s a health issue”.
“I’m 63 now … but I’m feeling fit and healthy and have no indication as to why not, and frankly after 16 years in Opposition I’d like one term in government,” he said.
McFetridge reflected that he had only been in Government “for two hours and 55 minutes” when parliament reconvened after the 2002 election, before Peter Lewis made his bombshell decision to back Labor.
Williams’ seat of Hindmarsh covers much of the same ground as Morphett, which takes in fashionable Glenelg in Adelaide’s west. Both men hail from the party’s moderate wing, though McFetridge is not part of the factional coterie.
One party source said a shift to Morphett would be “a logical possibility” for Williams. But another said while the notion has been discussed, there would be a “shitfight” for such a blue-ribbon seat if it was vacated after 16 years. It’s a rare suburban safe seat for the state Liberals, with McFetridge holding it by 12.9 per cent.
“People who had their eye on it aren’t going to think Matt deserves it just because he does,” the source said.
Williams won internal plaudits for his tenacious campaign – snatching Hindmarsh by just 1.89 per cent – with Prime Minister Tony Abbott raising eyebrows during the party’s state campaign launch last year by describing him as “my favourite South Australian Liberal”.
“Matt’s got an uphill battle (in Hindmarsh),” McFetridge said, “but at this stage I’ve no intention of stepping down.”
“We’ll have to cross that bridge when it comes … You hear all sorts of hypotheticals, but as you know a week’s a long time in politics.”
Williams and his fellow federal SA incumbents have been targeted by Labor as uncertainty over the future submarines project continues to fester. His prospects for re-election appear line-ball, with Labor likely to recall ousted four-term local member Steve Georganas.
Labor sources say the former member is the party’s “number one candidate … everyone wants him to run” and he has effectively “never stopped campaigning” for re-election since losing the seat in 2013.
Williams told InDaily he has neither heard nor been a part of discussions about a shift to state politics.
“Naturally, my focus is entirely on continuing to work in Hindmarsh and for Hindmarsh – and win Hindmarsh – as the local member for many, many terms to come,” he said.
“I’m sure people will like to hypothesise on certain things, but I’m not aware of it and not party to anything.”
He conceded “we had a difficult year last year”, but said with the federal poll still 18 months out, “we’re in a better position now than what we were five months ago”.
“I’m getting a reasonable response out there, there’s not people out there with a baseball bat (and) we’ve got a better story to tell than we’re telling,” he said, noting that “people probably don’t appreciate (the significance of) the frigate program as much as they should” in the debate about defence procurement.
“I’m not disillusioned at all,” he said.
“It’s nice that my colleagues – whether they be federal, state or local councillors – are looking out for my interests. I appreciate that. It’s not as if I’m in a safe seat (so) it’s nice of them to think of that, but it’s not as if I’m having active discussions with anyone along those lines … That’s up them to enjoy playing the game of politics.”
Williams and Marshall are meeting for lunch today, along with SA Senator and fellow moderate Simon Birmingham, but Marshall told InDaily that was “an auction item for a Hindmarsh fundraiser” and “not curious at all”.
“My feeling is that Duncan will continue on,” said Marshall.
“That’s his intention, and I fully expect Matt Williams will win the seat of Hindmarsh – he’s an extremely hard-working member.”
McFetridge likened his predicament to the current race for the White House, saying “I’m no Hillary Clinton” but noting the former Secretary of State was launching a presidential bid at the age of 67.
“It’s not your body so much as your brain, and that’s what people forget,” he said.
“I’ve been there a long time, I’ve seen a lot of things happen … That little bit of grey hair and experience is there.”
He said he was helping Williams “win Hindmarsh back” and had “had no indication from Matt that he’s considering his future if he was to lose”.
“People had better come talk to me,” he said.
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