InDaily last week revealed that senior Right-faction figures in the party had been conducting a concerted membership drive in largely Pentecostal Christian communities, with up to 500 members – around 10 per cent of the total state membership – signed up this year alone.
That’s led to widespread concern that local branches and key party committees could be taken over by the Right, which would then bolster its numbers at the powerful state council.
But sources have told InDaily the state executive today opted to reject the membership applications of more than 100 new members who joined the party in recent weeks, and whose 30-day waiting period has not yet completed – as well as writing to around 400 more demanding they explain their commitment to the Liberal cause.
This is the most extraordinary and undemocratic act I’ve seen in my time in politics
It’s believed all will be given the opportunity to join eventually provided they can meet more stringent membership requirements, including a commitment to support endorsed candidates.
State president Legh Davis told InDaily in a statement: “Following a number of incidents, including new members saying that they don’t support endorsed Liberal candidates, the party has agreed to undertake an audit process of new members.”
“Those who clearly support the Party’s constitutional objectives and endorsed candidates will be welcome as members,” he said.
The decision prompted an immediate backlash from the Right faction, with outgoing federal Boothby MP Nicolle Flint tweeting a scathing condemnation, calling it “the most extraordinary and undemocratic act I’ve seen in my time in politics”.
The decision of the @LiberalSAHQ State Executive today to deny membership to new members is the most extraordinary & undemocratic act I’ve seen in my time in politics. This is not the @LiberalAus of the great Hon John Howard MP I joined all those years ago 💔 pic.twitter.com/jRQf0kNAGx
— Nicolle Flint MP (@NicolleFlint) June 11, 2021
An email sent from state executive to recently-joined members says they may reapply if they provide a statutory declaration that they support the Liberal Party and its objectives, be bound by its constitution, back its candidates and are not aligned with any other organisations “that may be detrimental to the interests” of the Liberal Party of SA.
Their membership fees will be refunded in the meantime.
It’s understood several non-Pentecostal members have also been inadvertently caught up in the blanket review.
The membership drive – known as ‘Believe In Blue’ within the party – was spearheaded by SA senator Alex Antic, who this week told ABC Radio it was sparked by “an extraordinary frustration out there in the community about the trajectory of State Parliament and State Parliaments all across the country”.
“I don’t think we’ve ever seen a more egregious agenda of social policy reform [and] people feel as though their values and their beliefs are not being heard and not being listened to – that’s what I’m hearing in the community,” he said.
He said conservatives joining the party en masse “gives them the opportunity to pre-select candidates that share our values and to speak to those parliamentarians directly on a regular basis at branch meetings and so on”.
“That message has been heard,” he said.
One Right-aligned Liberal told InDaily today’s move was strategic, as the moderate-dominated state executive feared the Right taking over the Liberal Women’s Council at its upcoming annual meeting, giving them a dozen new state council delegates at this year’s Liberal state council AGM.
“They’re really only just buying time,” they said.
The cancelled members may be free to reapply to join, but will be made to “jump through hoops”, the source said.
However, they stressed that “a lot of those people will jump through the hoops, even if those hoops are illegitimate”.
“The reason they don’t support the current Liberal candidates is the reason they joined,” the insider said.
“At the end of the day, the [executive] is going to give the issue more air time and further agitate the very people they’re concerned about, who are true Liberal people but totally disenfranchised.”
But another insider said the crackdown was necessary because “the SA Party doesn’t want to end up like Victoria or the Sandgropers [Western Australia]”.
The state executive’s dramatic move comes despite Premier Steven Marshall – a member of the party’s state executive – this week welcoming the new recruits, saying: “I just think we should be encouraging as many people to get involved in the political process as possible, so I have no problem with it whatsoever.”
“We want everybody to get involved in politics,” he said.
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