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Back me or sack me: new Lib independent threat

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Liberal exile Fraser Ellis has told the Liberal Party to effectively back him or sack him, after his trial for alleged misuse of parliamentary entitlements was today delayed until after the March state election.

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Ellis suspended his Liberal membership and moved to the crossbench in February, sending the Marshall Government into minority, after an ICAC probe resulted in deception charges relating to his use of the country members accommodation allowance.

The Adelaide Magistrates Court however, heard today that his trial, scheduled for November, should be delayed until after a High Court appeal on another matter by fellow former Liberal MP Troy Bell.

Bell, who is contesting separate charges of theft, has been given leave to appeal to the High Court due to concerns about the ICAC investigation that saw him charged.

Magistrate Christopher Smolicz today agreed to reschedule Ellis’s trial for June next year, so that the outcome of Bell’s High Court challenge could be known.

Ellis’s lawyer, Anthony Allen SC said the matters to be considered by the High Court in Bell’s case were relevant to this case and that the High Court challenge might not be heard until February next year.

In a statement after the hearing, Ellis said the “legal issues to be determined by the High Court in respect of Mr Bell’s matter have the capacity to make a material difference to the legal issues in my own trial”.

“In those circumstances it is not possible for my trial to proceed until the High Court has ruled on the proper interpretation of the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Act 2012, which it will do when it hears Mr Bell’s matter,” he said.

“This now means that my matter will not be heard and determined prior to the State Election in March next year.

“I had hoped to have it resolved before then, but in light of the High Court’s decision to hear the appeal in respect of Mr Bell’s matter this is now not possible.”

Ellis said he had “consistently said and again repeat that I unequivocally maintain my innocence and look forward to clearing my name”.

“As this matter will now not be resolved prior to the State Election, I will write to the State Executive of the Liberal Party inviting them to confirm that I remain the endorsed Liberal Party candidate for the seat of Narungga,” he said.

“Given I am presumed innocent I hope that the Party will confirm my endorsement and allow me to stand as a Liberal candidate at the election.

“If the Liberal Party, despite the presumption of innocence, and despite my record in achieving outcomes for the people of Narungga, and despite the overwhelming support that I have received from my community, choose to remove my endorsement then I will nominate as an independent candidate and seek the support of my community directly.”

State director Sacha Meldrum did not respond to inquiries this morning.

If Ellis runs as an independent, the party would need to select a new candidate for the nominally safe seat, and pour further resources into an electorate it could normally assume it would hold.

That’s on top of campaigns in fellow independent Sam Duluk’s seat of Waite and new parliamentary Speaker Dan Cregan’s Kavel electorate.

Prosecutor Ryan Williams told the court today care would need to be taken in selecting a Magistrate to hear the trial.

“It’s important that whomever hears this trial does neither have any affiliation with any of the major political parties nor do they have any affiliation with any of the major political parties in the past given the highly politically sensitive nature of the allegations,” Williams said.

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