The pair faced off in a ballot of lower house Liberal MPs to decide the successor to long-serving deputy Vickie Chapman, who quit the role this week – along with two of her ministries – pending an Ombudsman’s inquiry into conflict of interest and misconduct claims.
Energy Minister Van Holst Pellekaan and Environment Minister Speirs arrived at the meeting together, with the former insisting: “We’re good friends, we’re colleagues [and] we work very, very constructively together.”
Speirs said he would offer a “generational shift” with a “very strong focus on marginal seats”.
“I have a great connection to outer suburbia – I’ve worked exceptionally hard to help try to connect to those voters, and that’s what I’d try to bring to the role, as well as pastoral care and strong policy development,” he said before the ballot.
He insisted that, unusually for an SA Liberal Party contest, there was no bad blood: “We walk in there as friends and we’ll come out as friends.”
Van Holst Pellekaan had already been installed as Deputy Premier – on an interim basis – on Tuesday, in a move that rankled with some Liberal members.
“Somebody needed to have the role for two days – it fell to me,” he said yesterday.
“It doesn’t change anything that’s about to happen… I might be the shortest-serving deputy premier in the history of the universe.”
That, however, was not the case, with the Leader of Government Business winning the ballot.
Senior Liberals, unusually, declined to confirm the exact vote, with party whip Richard Harvey telling waiting reporters: “That’s an internal party matter, so we won’t be discussing that.”
Five members voted by proxy after declining to attend.
Sources say even MPs present were not told the exact margin, which sources have variously put at 14-8 and 13-9.
Speirs was less inclined to speak after the result, saying: “I’ve got no comment, that’s fine – thank you, everyone.”
Chapman herself declined to comment on her way in, saying only on departing: “Thank-you very much, guys – it’s been great.”
Premier Steven Marshall said his outgoing deputy was “a very stoic, capable, tough individual”.
“She attended the vote and exercised her right to vote in that ballot, and she’s going to continue to contribute to the Liberal team,” he said.
Asked in what way she would contribute, he said: “She’s the Member for Bragg, and she’s a member of the parliamentary Liberal party-room and team, and she has been for a very long period of time and I expect that to continue into the future.”
Marshall said the ballot was “a very tough decision for our party-room” with a contest between “two great friends”.
He declined to reveal his own vote, saying: “I made it very clear when people did call, because many people in the party-room call me and ask ‘what’s your preference, who would you like us to vote for’… and I just genuinely thought we had two excellent candidates.”
Marshall insisted “we don’t reveal the details of that vote”, arguing: “I don’t think [that’s] unusual at all.”
“We certainly haven’t had a vote for the past nine years, so you can’t say there’s a particularly compelling precedent there,” he argued.
Van Holst Pellekaan – who is facing a political fight in his Stuart electorate, with high-profile independent Geoff Brock challenging him for the seat – said he would bring “stability, integrity and capacity” to the role.
“People know me, they know what they get,” he said.
“I’m a team player, I’m incredibly supportive of our Premier, incredibly supportive of our government – and want the best for SA.”
Asked if he would stand aside for Chapman should she be cleared of misconduct, he said: “That’s not a question for me.”
Our party-room chooses our deputy leader, our party-room has chosen me today,” he said.
“I don’t expect that to change.”
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