The new faces marked the unveiling of one of the least experienced ministries in SA political history, but it could be notable for the comeback of a historical mainstay in Liberal Party politics: factional division.
Steven Marshall today confirmed the expected elevation of Vincent Tarzia to the ministry, after a weekend that saw an unprecedented cleanout of the frontbench, with three resignations from cabinet and Upper House president Terry Stephens set to quit.
But it’s the Speaker’s chair Tarzia will vacate that could prompt a major schism in Liberal ranks, with sources saying a standoff for the key parliamentary role could see Right-winger Dan Cregan break convention and nominate for the role without the backing of the Liberal party-room.
It was already a bone of contention in party ranks that there had been just one from the Right faction’s ranks in Marshall’s inaugural cabinet – former Transport and Infrastructure Minister Stephan Knoll, who resigned on the weekend along with moderate Tim Whetstone and unaligned veteran David Ridgway amid an expenses scandal that had dogged the Government for days.
But now the Conservative Right, which won control of the Liberal Party’s state council and ruling state executive at last year’s party AGM, has been banished from the cabinet altogether.
Moderate first-termer David Basham and the factionally-unaligned Stephen Patterson will enter the ministry, with the former assume responsibility for Trade and Investment and the latter assuming Tim Whetstone’s former role as minister for Primary Industries.
Knoll’s sprawling array of ministries have been carved up among existing frontbenchers, with former TV presenter Corey Wingard adding Transport and Infrastructure to his existing portfolios of Sport, Recreation, and Racing, while Tarzia will take over his portfolios of Police, Emergency Services and Corrections.
Attorney-General Vickie Chapman will take additional responsibility for Planning and Local Government, while Treasurer Rob Lucas will have oversight of the troubled Renewal SA.
None of the new ministers was present when Marshall announced the changes to the media.
But the Right’s preferred candidate for elevation, Dan Cregan, was overlooked for cabinet promotion, and it’s understood senior Left figures have also sought to block him getting the consolation prize of the Speakership when parliament resumes, instead supporting Hills-based moderate Josh Teague for the role.
Sources claim Cregan could nominate for Speaker without party-room endorsement, and could defeat the party’s nominee with the backing of the Labor Opposition and crossbench.
It’s understood some are advocating elevating former Labor MP Frances Bedford as a compromise candidate, and to help preserve the Government’s parlous numbers on the floor of the House.
Cregan did not respond to inquiries today.
One insider, asked what the lack of Conservative ministerial representation would mean, said: “Quick cabinet meetings, presumably.”
Marshall did not flag the Speaker’s role today, saying it was a “matter for the parliament”, which does not sit again for several weeks.
He described his new cabinet as a “balance of experience and youth, enthusiasm”.
He rejected any suggestion the elevation of Basham – who lives in Victor Harbor and has claimed the contentious country members allowance – could cause future controversy, saying “I can’t be any clearer in saying I’m confident” in his appointment.
Marshall dismissed questions about the sidelining of his opposing Right faction, and whether that would have ramifications for party unity.
“We’ve put together a cabinet which is going to best serve the state during the global pandemic… there’s a huge amount of talent,” he said.
Despite flagging his previous interest in the soon-to-be-vacant Upper House president’s role, retiring moderate John Dawkins does not appear to be in contention, with Jing Lee and Dennis Hood understood to be the likely candidates.
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