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Liberal members defy party leadership over ousted MP

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Liberal members in the party’s Yorke Peninsula stronghold seat have warned the governing state executive not to preselect a new candidate – after incumbent MP Fraser Ellis was cut adrift this week.

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Ellis, who has sat on the crossbench since he was last year charged with alleged misuse of the country members entitlement, will run as an independent after the state executive this week resolved to reopen preselection nominations in Narungga, as InDaily revealed on Tuesday.

But that decision has prompted a fierce response from local branch members, some of whom warn they will continue to back the incumbent against any new Liberal candidate.

Such is the level of outrage, InDaily has been told there is a genuine chance that no-one from the Narungga state electorate conference will put their hand up for the vacancy before nominations close on Monday.

One prominent SEC committee member, prominent local businessman Malcolm Eglinton, told InDaily branch members were “putting views fairly strongly to the state executive [as] we’ve done all through this particular episode”.

“We’re very disappointed that the executive has just ignored the request we’ve made for several months regarding Fraser,” he said.

“It would have been our strong desire that they endorse him as the Liberal candidate for this area.

“Fraser hasn’t been dealt with as we’d like him to be dealt with as a Liberal member.”

He said the impending legal action had been used as an “excuse” but that Ellis was entitled to the presumption of innocence under the “rule of law”.

“No-one really cares about that over here, because of the way he’s worked for us,” he said.

“The reality is we believe Fraser has not necessarily been given a fair go in the whole deal.”

He said party members “across Yorke Peninsula” had been “extremely pleased with the way Fraser Ellis has stood up for the electorate”, typified by his decision to cross the floor against the Marshall Government’s Mining Bill.

“He stood up for the area,” Eglinton said.

“A lot of times Fraser has stood up for this electorate, and worked extremely hard for this electorate – the opinion of myself and many Liberal members is that we’d support Fraser [against any other prospective candidate].

“We ask that the party does not preselect another candidate.”

Eglinton said his “ideal” outcome would be that “they receive Fraser back in the membership and we could go on as normal”.

“That would be my ideal – if it comes to the next [option], yes, just forget the preselection and just allow him to run,” he said.

“We’ve been supporting him now for months, and gearing up for an election.”

He said the delay over the state executive decision – after Ellis called for clarity on his situation as far back as October – had unsettled the local SEC’s campaign preparation.

“There’s a lot of mechanics that go with an election, and some of that is thrown in to chaos,” he said.

Eglinton, who has written to the state executive this week, says his views are shared by a “significant proportion of Liberal members” in the area.

“We’ve said that to state executive – we really need them to understand this is what we want,” he said.

“As an SEC committee member and longstanding member of the Yorke Peninsula branch who has supported Liberal members for years, I still support Fraser Ellis – and support him regardless of whether state executive support him or not.”

It’s understood SEC president Jamie Smith is also backing Ellis, although he told InDaily he could make no comment.

But Liberal state president Legh Davis told InDaily: “The executive’s made its decision.”

He said the Narungga SEC had been made “well aware of why that decision has been made”.

“There’s no stand-off with the local branch – the local branch has been advised of what we’re doing [and] the view that’s been expressed by state executive has been conveyed to them, and that’s all I have to say,” he said.

Asked whether the party would field a candidate from outside the electorate if no-one within the local branches put their hand up, he said: “Let’s just wait and see – the nomination’s closing on Monday.”

Ellis said it was the support he had received “over the four year term and particularly of late” had been “incredibly humbling [and] really uplifting”.

“I clearly endorse their view – my preferred outcome was to be the endorsed Liberal candidate, but the party has not seen fit to follow that course,” he said.

Ellis would need the party’s permission to run as an “Independent Liberal”, but said he had yet to consider seeking that permission.

Davis said: “That’s something that hasn’t been discussed at this point by the executive.”

One Liberal source, however, said the party had little choice but to field a new candidate – but it was not necessarily concerned if the incumbent was returned.

“If the party was serious about knocking off Fraser they would have preselected someone months ago,” they said.

“The reality is if we don’t run anyone we don’t get any public funding for the contest, if we don’t put a Liberal candidate up there.”

They said the alternative of not running a candidate at all could actually cost Ellis votes, with local accustomed to voting Liberal and preferences expected to flow to the incumbent.

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