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REVEALED: Weatherill's role in Bedford bombshell

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Premier Jay Weatherill personally intervened to offer the seat of a serving federal MP to Labor’s Industrial Left sub-faction under a deal that prompted Frances Bedford’s withdrawal from a preselection contest in her seat of Florey, InDaily can reveal.

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Several insiders have confirmed Weatherill was present at clandestine meetings in recent weeks at which the north-eastern suburbs seat of Makin was put on the table as part of a peace deal amid an ongoing stoush within the ALP’s left factions.

It’s understood the meetings resulted in Bedford agreeing to withdraw from a one-sided but politically messy preselection ballot with Right-wing challenger Jack Snelling in Florey.

Bedford this week quit the party, citing the faction’s “hostile takeover” of her seat and lamenting the influence of Labor’s “faceless men”.

Weatherill said this week that he was “saddened” by her decision to quit, asking her to change her mind but noting she was “still a strong supporter of mine”.

But it’s understood the Premier represented his Progressive Left Unions and Sub-Branches faction in negotiations designed to mediate a growing stoush within the Labor left, and which resulted in Bedford’s withdrawal from the Florey contest.

Several figures with knowledge of the meetings have confirmed that Makin, held by longtime backbencher Tony Zappia, was the centrepiece of a peace deal under which Bedford was urged to walk away from contesting a ballot.

“Certainly it was discussed… [Weatherill] was trying to be a circuit-breaker to some of the concerns,” said one insider.

“He got himself involved… trying to broker something that satisfied everybody.”

The Industrial Left, with which Bedford is loosely and unofficially aligned, has publicly voiced concerns about the leadership of Weatherill’s PLUS faction, which with the Right’s Labor Unity comprises the vast majority of the state ALP’s factional machine.

The gaggle of left-wing unions not affiliated with the PLUS faction has broken ranks over a series of recent deals, including the rubber-stamped appointment of Australian Workers Union official Justin Hanson to the Legislative Council.

It’s understood the trigger point for their dissent has been a stoush with the AWU, which the other industrial unions believe has been doing deals on their behalf but without their knowledge.

One of those deals is understood to have been a guarantee that Zappia’s seat would be handed to an AWU candidate when he retires, but several insiders say it has now been dangled in front of the Industrial Left as part of a peace offering – one that would also guarantee Bedford didn’t continue with her preselection bid.

InDaily asked Weatherill specific questions about his involvement in meetings at which a Makin deal and Bedford’s future were discussed, to which he responded: “I don’t comment on internal party matters.”

The prospective deal, which was shaky in any case, is increasingly tenuous given the seat is unlikely to be available – if it still exists, given a looming federal redistribution – for at least five years.

Zappia reconfirmed today: “I intend to nominate at the next election and to run again.”

Asked whether he was aware of Weatherill being involved in discussions about his seat, he said: “Any discussions that happen within the ALP, and which I’m aware of, I don’t discuss publicly.”

Bedford today confirmed she was present at a meeting early this month with industrial left union representatives “where I indicated I would support their endeavours to be taken seriously in all future processes and negotiations”.

“However it appears that action was in vain as I am unaware there has actually been any positive outcome,” she said.

Weatherill’s intervention in his party’s internal processes appears to contrast starkly with the approach taken publicly by Opposition Leader Steven Marshall, who this week distanced himself from a messy standoff in Morialta that saw conservative challenger Simon Le Poidevin barred from nominating against frontbencher John Gardner.

The Liberals have their own internal angst this week, with diplomat, former Foreign Minister and onetime state leadership aspirant Alexander Downer returning to Adelaide for a party fundraiser tonight.

His presence has prompted scuttlebutt about another bid to enter state parliament, after recent revelations of another aborted tilt earlier this year.

A senior party insider today reconfirmed there had been discussions about a Downer comeback but “there were conditions attached that couldn’t be met”.

In response to persistent rumours about Downer’s intentions, the source said: “Alexander likes talking about Alexander – whether he actually does it is always a different question”.

“If any of that were going to happen, the time has gone a long time ago.”

Another Liberal MP said they had heard rumours around Downer, but insisted “it’s a bit of scurrilous stuff slipping around the place”.

“You have to understand the machinations of the party… there’s no opportunity, even if he wanted to participate,” they said.

“All our preselections have closed [so] there’s no seat available.”

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