The Liberal Party is dealing with spotfires all over the electoral map, with a state executive meeting tonight expected to endorse the decision of a candidate review committee that will see four nominees contest preselection in Waite, to take on incumbent Sam Duluk who quit the party last month.
The meeting is also expected to again open preselection for the Hills seat of Kavel, after the on-again, off-again candidacy of local member Dan Cregan took another turn late on Friday, when the Centre-Right MP quit the party to run as an independent.
That followed his decision to quit parliament altogether in July, which was overturned last month when he opted to stay on, playing a key role in developing the controversial legislation that saw parliament gut the state’s ICAC.
Mount Barker councillor Bradley Orr told InDaily he was again considering his options after preparing to contest the seat when it initially appeared to fall vacant in July.
However, he noted, the “landscape is quite different” this time, with the Liberal candidate to take on their former member.
“I’m not disinterested, but I’m still weighing up my options,” he said.
Mayo Federal Electorate Committee president Rowan Mumford, who was the subject of emails Cregan controversially tabled in parliament earlier this year, was previously expected to be the Right faction’s preferred candidate in the event of a Kavel preselection, but has yet to confirm his intentions this time round.
Yesterday, Bedford confirmed – after 10 months of deliberations – that she would vacate her seat of Florey after its boundaries were dramatically shifted, instead taking on Liberal Richard Harvey in neighbouring Newland – the state’s most marginal seat.
The various developments will force the party to divert campaign funds to defend nominally safe seats, while some in the party believe Bedford’s gambit will push Newland all but beyond the Government’s grasp, arguing Harvey will need a primary vote in the high-40s given the likelihood of Labor preferences flowing to Bedford and vice versa.
“That’s the problem – we’re fighting on too many fronts,” one insider said of the electoral equation, which could yet see another twist with exiled Liberal Fraser Ellis still a chance to contest his seat of Narungga as an independent if the party does not endorse him while he fights criminal charges stemming from an ICAC investigation into alleged misuse of parliamentary entitlements.
Cregan’s centre-Right colleague Steve Murray is also yet to rule out similarly quitting the party, while Marshall has an uneasy truce with south-east first-termer Nick McBride.
Cregan has publicly declared his intent to use his independence to leverage budget commitments for his Hills seat, saying on the weekend: “I’d be happy to buy the Premier a pizza in Mt Barker after the election if I’m lucky enough to be returned.”
That’s a reference to the pizza infamously shared by former Premier Jay Weatherill and Geoff Brock, over which the Frome independent committed to backing Labor for a four-year term in 2014.
Marshall responded today: “I try to avoid pizza at my age.”
Cregan said the Government’s abandonment of its controversial Globelink plan to divert freight traffic from the Hills was “a moment that particularly frustrated me”.
“I went to the election saying to my community that we would deliver GlobeLink, a transformational infrastructure plan for the Adelaide Hills, and then in government that plan falls away,” he told ABC Radio Adelaide today.
“I need to be able to look my community in the eye and say ‘there is a plan’ or ‘there isn’t a plan to address massive population growth’, because I’ve formed the view that there isn’t I need to have the freedom to communicate with my community and say ‘there is no plan’.”
Marshall, who was instrumental in talking Cregan back from retirement in recent weeks, told reporters today he had “discussions with all members of parliament about things that are important to their electorate”.
“I think you’d expect me to do exactly that, but I think since coming to government we’ve been able to demonstrate that we have a pretty robust way of determining how to spend the finite taxpayer dollars,” he said.
“We still want investment decisions to be made by Infrastructure SA… [we’ve] moved away from pet projects, marginal seats, electoral cycles.
“I don’t think the people of SA want guns held to the head of politicians – they want sensible decisions made in the interests of the whole state.
“That’s what we’ve demonstrated in our three and a half years in government, and that’s what we’re going to continue to deliver if we’re fortunate enough to be re-elected.”
Asked whether recent development had made the electoral task more challenging, he said: “Every election is complicated – last time we had Nick Xenophon running against us.”
“We’re just doing what we’re doing to keep our state safe and our economy strong,” he said.
“We’ll be running Liberal candidates in every seat in SA and we’ll be campaigning for those Liberal candidates to be elected.”
Marshall said the Hills region was a “very important part of our state” and “I think we’ve been delivering very strongly for it”.
“There’s strong population growth right around the Adelaide Hills – in fact, there’s strong population growth right around regional SA at the moment, which is fantastic,” he said.
But Cregan insists it is unabated population growth that is causing frustration, rather than celebration, in his seat, telling FIVAaa: “There’s currently no state plans for massive population growth in the hills and we need a new district hospital, a new ambulance station, further investment in education and a commitment to public transport, ideally to rail”.
While the Liberals ponder their plans in Kavel, Bedford’s campaign for Newland has hit a rocky start with a former close confidant launching an explosive critique of her plan to continue in state parliament.
Former federal candidate Matthew Loader, a longtime member of the ALP’s Left faction who quit to party to work for Bedford as an independent, sent InDaily a letter in response to a story flagging the MP’s Newland move, saying: “The best move Frances Bedford could make is to retire.”
“After 25 years, she has little left offer [and] having worked with her at close quarters, I can testify these days she spends more of her time pursuing her own personal vanity projects,” he wrote.
“No matter where she runs, most voters are smart enough to know another term would just be an honour lap… she should just call it quits and exit the stage with what grace she can manage.”
It’s understood Loader left Bedford’s office early this year and is in the process of negotiating a Return to Work settlement with the state government.
InDaily understands he had earlier declined her suggestion that he run as an independent in Florey, as her replacement.
Bedford did not address that suggestion when contacted by InDaily, saying Loader’s letter “sounds bitter”.
“He’s entitled to an opinion, I suppose,” she said.
“It’s sad to hear he’s so unhappy, but there it is.”
She suggested the ‘pet projects’ referred to her involvement in the Muriel Matters Society, named after the Australian-born suffragist.
“He obviously doesn’t like that,” she said.
“If I thought I had nothing to offer, I wouldn’t be running… it’s just sad to hear he feels that way.”
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