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Lib members tell party: 'We’re backing Sam'

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Liberal divisions have exploded with the head of the party’s Waite branch declaring “many members” are set to resign and back incumbent Sam Duluk’s independent bid – as InDaily can reveal the MP met with Treasurer Rob Lucas before announcing his decision yesterday.

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Duluk confirmed the seemingly inevitable yesterday before the party had the chance to reject his preselection, but InDaily has been told the moderate-dominated state executive and candidate review committee panel was set to reject his candidacy if he applied.

Duluk was acquitted last month of basic assault against SA Best MLC Connie Bonaros stemming from an incident on a booze-fuelled parliament house corridor Christmas party in 2019.

However, a controversial speech by Greens MLC Tammy Franks threw further accusations about his behaviour into the public realm, while also implicating other Liberals in lewd behaviour at a concurrent party function elsewhere in the building.

The Liberals will now open the southern suburbs and foothills seat for preselection nominations, with members of both the party’s conservative and moderate factions expressing interest this morning.

The local State Electorate Conference, however, is overwhelmingly conservative-dominated, with its president Malcolm Post telling InDaily the branch was in revolt over the treatment of Duluk by the party.

“My concern and that of most Waite SEC members is Sam’s health and wellbeing,” he said.

“I have been around long enough to know that life is a tough game, but I never thought that winning had to be achieved at any cost.”

The comment appears to be a pointed reference to the factional bad blood in Liberal ranks, with Duluk’s fate all-but sealed when his Right-faction failed to seize control of the party’s governing state executive at last weekend’s AGM.

Post told InDaily that “many members of Waite have expressed their disappointment about the way the whole episode has been handled and will be resigning from the Liberal Party as a result to support Sam”.

“I am only aware of one person who lived a perfect life – and they have been dead for a long time,” he added.

Liberal tensions are at boiling point in the Right faction over Duluk’s treatment, with one insider telling InDaily: “This strikes me as straight-out war on the part of the moderates.”

“Sam has brought on his own demise, but the terms of that demise have been quite clearly factional,” they said.

“He’s given the ammunition for them to mow him over with a tank.”

It comes as Treasurer Rob Lucas confirmed he met with Duluk yesterday morning before the Waite MP confirmed he would run as an independent.

But Lucas, who frequently represents Premier Steven Marshall on the party state executive, declined to comment on whether he informed the MP he did not retain enough support to keep his preselection.

“I have lots of discussions with Sam, but I’m not going to relay the detail of any conversation I might have had with Sam,” he said, adding that it was a “private discussion” and that “there were only two people there”.

“I met Sam yesterday morning but I also had discussions with him last week, and over recent months as well,” he said.

“The nature of any conversation I’ve had with Sam I’m not going to comment on.”

Asked whether Duluk was told the party’s candidate review committee was set to reject him as a candidate, Lucas said: “Ultimately the decision is taken by the executive, not the CRC.”

He also noted media commentary on the configuration of the state executive “post the AGM”.

“The CRC will make a recommendation but the party executive is the decision-maker,” he said.

Duluk said he and Lucas met for coffee but it was a “private conversation”, however he denied he was told he would not have support from the candidate review process.

“We talk about a lot of stuff,” he said.

It’s unclear when the call for Liberal nominations to take on Duluk – and Labor candidate Catherine Hutchesson -will formally go out, with state director Sascha Meldrum telling InDaily today it was “a matter for the state executive”.

However, she declined to respond when asked whether the executive – on which she sits – would call a meeting to deal with the matter ahead of its next scheduled conference next month.

InDaily recently revealed a move by local moderates to establish a new branch within Waite, with many of those who attended its inaugural meeting mooted as potential nominees for preselection.

They include former party vice-president Cara Miller, Mitcham councillor Adriana Christopoulos and Melissa Jones, who told InDaily today: “I’m considering my options and will make a final decision when nominations open.”

From the Right faction, names mooted include former federal Young Liberal president and Tindall Gask Bentley lawyer Jocelyn Sutcliffe, along with her firm’s former boss Morry Bailes.

Outgoing Boothby MP Nicolle Flint, whose last election campaign was managed by Duluk, has been canvassed but has ruled herself out of contention.

But the conservative candidate most widely touted is Leah Blyth, who recently sought preselection for Boothby and was an unsuccessful vice-presidential candidate at the Liberal AGM.

She told InDaily today: “It’s an opportunity worthy of consideration.”

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