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Knoll's prospective successor pushes "local" credentials as Libs face off

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The former Northern Territory politician taking on two of the SA Liberal Party’s rising stars for preselection in Stephan Knoll’s Barossa-based seat says he’ll be pushing his credentials as a local activist in what he believes is a conservative-leaning constituency.

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Steve Balch, a one-time member of the NT parliament, tells InDaily he moved to the Barossa Valley six years ago, and has “been active on various committees and organisations”, including Regional Development Australia, the Southern Barossa Alliance and chairing the Lyndoch Community Committee.

He’s also been president of the local Liberal sub-branch for the past five years.

The party today signed off on nominees in a raft of seats after its candidate review committee interviewed several hopefuls, with Balch facing off against Steven Marshall’s chief spin doctor Ashton Hurn and Caroline Rhodes, the CEO of Grain Producers SA who was also previously chief of staff to Liberal senator David Fawcett.

Both Right-aligned Rhodes and Hurn, a factional moderate who has also worked for Christopher Pyne, are considered frontrunners among party sources, but Balch says he will offer himself “as somebody who lives locally and can make a contribution”.

“I’ve been really active in the community since I came here,” he said.

“I have a long history in the Liberal Party – I was a member of parliament in the Territory government.”

He said the decision, to be taken in mid-February, is “going to come down to the members of the branch from across the Barossa Valley”.

“I’ve been their chair for five years – they’ve seen me up close and personal [and] I like to think I’ve made a good enough impression on them in the time I’ve been their president that they know I’ll be a very good potential candidate,” he said.

“I’ve demonstrated over six years that I’m prepared to put my hand up and make a contribution to the local community… that will be viewed positively by members of the branch.”

Both the other candidates have strong links to the local area, but have more recently lived in Adelaide.

If he isn’t successful, Balch’s preferences could also prove decisive in what would then become essentially a factional stand-off.

He describes himself as “a progressive conservative”.

“I’m open to new ideas – you’ve got to be able to move with the times and I’m not so conservative that I don’t embrace change,” he said.

However, he said he considered himself socially conservative, and asked whether he believed the electorate was similarly conservative replied: “I believe so, yes.”

Neither of the other candidates responded to inquiries today.

Party sources said a selling point for both would be that they would be considered future frontbench aspirants, with Balch saying he would be happy to serve on the front bench “if the opportunity came up”.

“My previous time in parliament in the Northern Territory means I’m job-ready,” he said.

But he insisted his message would focus on “who is going to provide the best representation for our area”.

“It’s important we have someone who’s going to go to Adelaide as the champion for this area [and] my focus would be, if I was to be elected, to be the best local member I can be,” he said.

He cited issues such as China’s wine trade war and water supply as key to local businesses.

Schubert will fall vacant with the exit of incumbent Stephan Knoll, who opted not to contest next year’s election after standing down from the ministry amid last year’s entitlements scandal.

“It was a difficult time for the outgoing member – I understand his reasons for basically putting his family first and making a decision to step away,” Balch said.

“It’s been a challenging time for our branch and for the members… we’re all wishing Stephan all the best.

“He looked as though he had a long and illustrious career in front of him [but] politics is a dynamic environment.”

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