Steven Marshall’s joint party-room has been briefed about a strategy to re-engage its volunteer base – dubbed the “Blue Army” – to be “deployed across the metropolitan districts to fulfil the needs of various electorates”.
The Liberals won 25 of the 47 lower house seats at the 2018 election that swept Marshall to power, but have since seen Sam Duluk shift to the crossbench after an incident that saw him charged with basic assault.
That means any Labor gain at the 2022 poll could wipe out the Government’s majority, with the party assigning its Legislative Councillors to lead campaigns in the Liberal-held marginals of King, Adelaide, Newland and Elder.
King, held by first-term moderate MP Paula Luethen, appears particularly vulnerable, with three members assigned to the task, compared to just one for every other seat.
But a briefing document seen by InDaily also details eight “target” seats the Liberals will seek to gain.
They include Frome, held by independent Geoff Brock, which could become more winnable if it falls victim to an expected carve-up of regional seats by the Electoral Districts Boundaries Commission.
They also include Labor’s six most marginal seats of Badcoe, Hurtle Vale, Lee, Mawson, Torrens and Wright.
But the Liberals are also strongly targeting the seat of one of their former members – Mount Gambier MP Troy Bell, who quit the party after an ICAC investigation saw him charged with misappropriating more than $2 million of public funds before his election to parliament.
His case is currently before courts, but the party has allocated Treasurer Rob Lucas – a former south-east local who will retire at the next election – to co-ordinate a Liberal campaign to unseat him.
That’s widely expected to involve presumptive candidate Ben Hood, a right-winger and incumbent party vice-president.
Bell told InDaily he was “surprised” the Liberals would spend resources targeting him in the south-east.
“If that’s the intention of the party, that’s for the Liberal Party to decide… I didn’t know that was the case [but] it does make sense that the Liberal Party would be looking at the next election and which seats they need to win,” he said.
“I’ve committed to stay as an independent up until the next election, to make sure I can work with both sides to affect good outcomes for our region and the community members that are there.”
He described Hood, who declined to comment today, as “young, hard-working and well-liked in the community” who would provide strong opposition “if that’s what he chooses to do”.
In a further twist, Hood’s sister Lucy – a senior staffer to Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas – is regarded in Labor circles as the front-runner to stand for the ALP in the vulnerable Liberal seat of Adelaide.
Documents seen by InDaily reveal the Liberals are planning to re-engage their volunteer base – used to strong effect in 2018 – with MPs given specific instructions on how to “reactivate” volunteers in a briefing by frontbencher David Speirs.
A briefing paper details the “reactivation of the Liberal Party volunteer base, the Blue Army”, detailing how a volunteer coordinator will “liaise with members, district volunteer coordinators and volunteers themselves to ensure campaign activities are staffed with a strong volunteer base”.
MPs are encouraged to “provide support and extra opportunities for those who want to volunteer further”.
“The concept is to aid members/candidates and deploy Blue Army volunteers across metropolitan seats where they can deliver on campaign activities,” it says.
“Volunteer districts will also have their own WhatsApp Group set up for better engagement and also the rapid deployment of volunteers when required.”
It’s unclear what they will be deployed to do, particularly given the party’s current move to ban corflutes in election campaigns.
MPs are encouraged to “engage and reactivate their own volunteer base” as well as creating “a quarterly and/or six monthly strategy to personally check in with their volunteer base (phone call / invite to event etc)”.
MPs are told “how to motivate and engage volunteers”, including “sending letters to first-time volunteers [to] thank them for their time”.
“A Volunteer coordinator will work with members’ offices to organise quarterly events in each district to encourage social connection and build a community”, with Blue Army members encouraged to join a private Facebook group.
MPs are instructed to “work closely with the volunteer coordinator to deploy volunteers into the relevant districts to complete campaign activities”.
Party insiders have expressed dismay that the Liberals again intend to pour resources into unseating Bell, who is considered likely to otherwise back a Liberal Government in the event of a hung parliament.
The Liberals ran local Craig Marsh against Bell in 2018, but he retained the seat easily, winning 38.7 per cent of the primary vote in a three-cornered contest affected by the presence of SA Best.
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