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'We’ll have another 16 years of Opposition': Lib split looms

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Local Liberals have urged maverick Marshall Government backbencher Nick McBride not to jettison the party amid claims other “unhappy” MPs are considering their own future, as tensions over border closures reach boiling point.

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McBride has been canvassing local sentiment in his south-east seat of Mackillop about a potential shift to the crossbench – a move that would further erode the already minority Liberal Government’s authority in parliament heading into next year’s March election.

Factional divisions have reared their head in recent weeks, with the Right failing to garner a majority on state executive at this month’s AGM before conservative-aligned MP Sam Duluk was forced to confirm he’d run as an independent last week.

While that was impacted by claims about Duluk’s behaviour, McBride’s move has been prompted by policy concerns, and insiders have suggested others are similarly considering their future, with one saying: “There’s some very, very unhappy people about the place.”

Asked today by InDaily whether he was considering leaving the party, centre-Right MP and former Liberal state president Steve Murray said he had “no comment”.

It follows ongoing tension over the impact of border closures on border communities, with McBride – whose seat includes the Victorian gateway towns of Penola and Bordertown – crossing the floor in a recent vote to oppose the extension of the state’s emergency powers into next year.

Party sources have told InDaily his latest move follows a joint party-room meeting last week at which his calls for more decisive action to return South Australians stranded by border closures went unanswered, with Premier Steven Marshall leaving the meeting halfway through.

More than one attendee said they heard the Premier say as he left that McBride “shouldn’t have crossed the f***ing floor”.

Neither McBride nor Marshall commented on that claim today, with the Premier’s office saying in a statement: “The Premier opened and closed the meeting in question and then left to attend the Afghan Community Fundraiser Event.”

They declined to comment directly on party-room discussions.

However others say they didn’t hear the remark, which is understood to have been only been audible to a small number of attendees.

Hammond MP Adrian Pederick told InDaily: “That’s the first time I’ve heard that [but] I was concerned with other matters.”

“I definitely didn’t hear that comment but it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen,” he said.

However, Pederick insists “I didn’t think the meeting was that unusual”, comparing the current party-room favourably with “what [reputedly] happened in the past, the Brown/Olsen days”.

“It was very robust [back then]… there’s been nothing anywhere close recently,” he said.

“People express concerns about certain matters [but] there were no harsh voices… I’ve heard some of the chatter that happened back in the day… people telling people to ‘have sex and travel’, and there was nothing remotely close to that.”

Health Minister Stephen Wade said he also left the meeting early to chair another forum, but noted “MPs right across the state, both metro and country, are getting a lot of calls in relation to constituents that are wanting to come back”.

Asked about McBride’s concerns, he said: “I completely understand it [but] we are very excited about enhancements to the exemptions portal that are underway now.”

The minister insisted “SA’s COVID response has been world class”, saying: “We believe that this is a textbook response.”

McBride’s office released a statement today noting “speculation in the media that I am considering becoming an Independent”, but declining to rule it out.

“I do not wish to make any further comment at this stage, other than to indicate that I will continue to engage with my constituents to ascertain their opinions on a variety of matters,” he said.

One prominent constituent and party member, Regional Development Australia Limestone Coast chair Evan Flint, told InDaily he had not been directly canvassed but had spoken to McBride about his future when the pair saw each other at a local football final in which the MP was umpiring.

“He had a quick yarn, saying [he was] considering it and what did I think,” Flint told InDaily.

“I said ‘I’d prefer you to work within rather than leaving the Liberal Party – it’s a huge step’,” he said.

“All Nick said is he was unhappy… I guess someone’s upset him.”

Flint – a recent president of the local branch and current vice president of the Barker FEC, and whose daughter Nicolle is the outgoing federal MP for Boothby – said towns in the area were “probably suffering as much as anyone”.

“He is consulting people… my advice was to try and remain in the party and see if he can’t work it out,” he said.

“It’s an irreversible step, as far as the party’s concerned – as a Liberal Party member if you go independent, that’s it… the party would wipe their hands of you.

“It’s sad but clearly there’s unhappiness going on, isn’t there… I’d say he’s not the only disgruntled member.”

Flint said if the instability continued “we’ll have another 16 years of Opposition”.

“That’s where this is all heading, if it gets to that stage,” he said.

“My advice to Nick was to try and hang within [the party]… he took it on board – he’s not stupid, this is a serious decision.

“I’d be disappointed for Nick to leave but understand the frustration. It’s disappointing he’s been pushed hard enough that he’d be considering this move.”

Asked if the local party still supported McBride, Flint said: “We haven’t met as a branch so I can’t make that call [but] he would have support within the community.”

“Nick doesn’t need the money… he’s there to serve,” he said.

“If he’s getting treated poorly he’ll make the decision as he sees fit.”

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