At a meeting of the Young Liberal movement on Friday night, Aric Pierce – a staffer for federal MP and senior moderate James Stevens – was elected president, after members aligned with the party’s Hard Right joined the Left to oust incumbent James Porter.
The coup is significant as it gives the moderates five votes on the party’s governing 11-member state executive, with the casting vote going to outgoing president John Olsen.
But it also means the Left will have significantly more numbers at next month’s AGM, after the moderates also seized control of the Women’s Council earlier this month.
That is likely to see an emboldened moderate faction seize at least one of the vice-presidential roles – enough to take outright control of the state executive – and will also likely see a contested ballot for the presidency to replace Olsen.
InDaily understands former state MLC Legh Davis has been sounded out as a compromise candidate to take on Max Van Dissel, who announced his candidacy earlier this year.
Davis would carry some conservative support but also garner the backing of the Left.
He told InDaily today his candidacy was “possible but not as yet certain”.
But the hijack of Friday’s vote has intensified ongoing tensions as a breakaway ‘Centre’ faction tussles with the party’s Hard Right – a standoff that has now seen the conservative wing cede control of the party only a year after finally winning a long-sought majority on state council.
One senior insider said the Centre group “brought out 142 [votes] to the Left’s 135” in the Young Liberal ballot – but “the Hard Right then moved nine to 15 votes against the Centre”.
“Nobody will ever forget this betrayal,” the source said.
“The Hard Right prefers to destroy things than build them up… in this case, all they have destroyed is the likelihood of anybody working with them in the future.”
Insiders believe the Left’s re-emergence will make it near impossible for ousted Waite MP Sam Duluk to gain readmission to the Liberal Party, regardless of the result of a forthcoming court case in which he is facing a charge of basic assault over his behaviour to SA Best MLC Connie Bonaros at a 2019 Christmas function.
Duluk’s party membership is set to be determined by state executive, while several other preselections and prospective casual vacancies in both state and federal parliaments will now be decided by a moderate-dominated council.
“It’s frustrating when you’ve got the Hard Right supporting the moderates for personality reasons when they don’t see the bigger picture,” one member said.
Another argued the issues had been caused by “a dozen or so malcontents who have had a disproportionate influence on a body which otherwise would have been, as usual, taken by the Right”.
That source warned that any “Right-aligned candidates that had any aspirations are now doomed”, calling the Hard Right’s move “one of the dumbest own goals I’ve seen” since the proponents of Peter Dutton’s unsuccessful bid to become Prime Minister agreed to provide a list of signatures supporting the spill.
A moderate insider noted the result was “obviously a significant shift”, but insisted “it’s not going to lead to any over-reach or bad behaviour on our side” – blaming the Right faction for its own downfall.
“It’s come about in part because of the terrorism of the last 12 months,” they said.
In a statement, Porter told InDaily: “It has been an honour to serve the Liberal Party in this capacity over the past year.”
“I would like to congratulate the incoming President and Executive on their election on Friday,” he said.
“I look forward to working with them, and others in the party to ensure we re-elect a Marshall Liberal Government and a Morrison Liberal Government.”
Pierce said he “won’t be commenting on any internal Liberal Party matters”.
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