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Waite and see: Marshall keeps door open for Duluk

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Premier Steven Marshall appears to have softened his stance on the prospect of Liberal exile Sam Duluk re-joining his party-room if he is acquitted of a charge of basic assault next month.

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The Waite MP stood aside from the Liberal party-room last year when he was charged with basic assault stemming from an incident at a boozy parliament house corridor Christmas party in 2019, at which he allegedly “whacked” SA Best MLC Connie Bonaros on the bottom.

However, Duluk has continued to pay his party membership and would likely seek readmission to the party-room if he escapes conviction when magistrate Jonathan Wells hands down his decision next month.

Duluk pleaded not guilty to the charge at his two-day trial this week, which heard conflicting accounts of key events at the function from Bonaros and another prosecution witness, Greens staffer Emily Bird.

Marshall, who now leads a minority government after both Duluk and fellow Right-winger Fraser Ellis moved to the crossbench as they face separate unrelated charges, in February appeared to kill off any prospect of Duluk returning to the Liberal fold, or running under the party’s banner at next year’s election.

“There hasn’t been a preselection in Waite, but Sam Duluk is not a member of the Liberal Party and therefore he can’t be our candidate for the next state election,” the Premier told media at the time.

Today though, he appeared to soften that stance, saying he would not speculate on what would happen in Waite, pending the court’s decision.

“My understanding is the court will hand down a verdict in July,” he told reporters.

“Mr Duluk is not a member of the Liberal Party at this stage, and obviously we’ll wait to see what comes from that court hearing.”

It’s a stark rhetorical shift from February last year, when Marshall declared he had barred the Waite MP from the party-room, citing further undisclosed allegations.

At the time, Marshall said he had recently “become aware of further allegations regarding incidents involving the Member for Waite, Mr Sam Duluk, and his behaviour at Parliament House on Friday 13th December 2019”.

“These incidents were not brought to my attention by Mr Duluk,” he said in a statement.

“To ensure confidentiality of the individuals involved I will not comment further on these matters [but] this new information, combined with reports of a police investigation into Mr Duluk’s behaviour, renders his position in the Liberal Parliamentary Party untenable.”

Marshall said at the time that “the type of behaviour that has been publicly canvassed is completely unacceptable and falls well short of the standards expected of all Members of Parliament [and] accordingly, I have advised Mr Duluk that he is no longer to participate in any meetings of the Liberal Parliamentary Party”.

The MP’s future is a potential flashpoint in Liberal ranks, given the recent sidelining of several Right-faction MPs, several of whom left their posts in the wake of last year’s parliamentary entitlements scandal.

The Waite sub-branch has demanded the party’s state executive delay a preselection process in the southern suburbs seat until Duluk’s court matter has been resolved.

The sub-branch is also due to meet for its AGM next week.

In response to Marshall’s latest comments, Labor spokesman Tom Koutsantonis said the Premier “needs to come clean about his plans for Waite”.

“He’s previously ruled out Sam Duluk returning to the Liberal Party – now he’s opened the door… what’s changed?” he said.

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