For those with short memories, that moment came not two months before the 2014 state poll, when ousted (and since reinstated) Senator and right faction heavyweight Farrell sought to parachute into the safe seat of Napier, which his friend Michael O’Brien was obligingly happy to vacate.
BREAKING: Nuclear referendum as Jay stares down dissent
But Weatherill was having none of it, publicly threatening to resign if the party endorsed Farrell’s nomination.
A chaotic few hours later, the SA factional ‘Godfather’ withdrew his bid, and Weatherill’s authority was asserted.
It’s a moment he privately considers pivotal to his electoral success – the moment his leadership was crystallized in the public mind.
And now, with even those in his cabinet who advocate for a nuclear waste dump squeamish at the looming political fallout, insiders have suggested Jay Weatherill may be about to repeat his “my way or the highway” stance.
After the citizens’ jury, a ‘deliberative democracy’ model favoured by the Premier, firmly rejected any further moves toward a high-level nuclear repository, and state Liberal leader Steven Marshall last week dumped the dump, expectation is rampant that Weatherill’s cabinet will jettison its so-called “amber light” signaling a ‘proceed with caution’ approach to planning for a nuclear future.
But as one senior insider told InDaily: “Marshall is right that this is the defining issue of the 2018 election – but perhaps not in the way he thinks.”
That would suggest Weatherill could be prepared to put his leadership on the line in a bid to maintain what has become the central platform of his first – and possibly only – full term as Premier.
“I think the cabinet have complete faith in the Premier’s judgment on this matter,” Treasurer and Mineral Resources Minister Tom Koutsantonis told InDaily today.
However other insiders suggested Marshall and the Liberals had erred in staking their ground early, as it would give the Government a face-saving exit to abandon its plans while blaming Opposition intransigence.
Former Liberal Martin Hamilton-Smith, who has publicly endorsed the economic opportunities in prospect, today cast a downbeat tone about the prospects of overcoming the political hurdles ahead.
“The Royal Commissioner made two points,” he said this morning ahead of the meeting that would determine the Government’s response.
“There are thousands of high tech jobs on offer and a great [economic] opportunity – but it would only work if there’s bipartisan support and community agreement.
“I think he was right on both points.”
Hamilton-Smith suggested the backlash against something he said was still little more than “an idea” was “very worrying”.
“It makes it very hard to raise bold ideas if all ideas get belted before they even crystallize into a plan,” he said.
“Trying to get an idea up in SA is proving to be very difficult [and] this is another example of how hard it is to break through with a bold idea, even when there’s billions of dollars worth of investment and thousands of jobs on the line as a prospect.
“I just think we are where we are.”
And while we will find out exactly where that is later today, it seems likely it will be determined not by the cabinet, but by the Premier who put nuclear on the table early last year.
He does, of course, have the intractable support of one nuclear enthusiast, Government whip Tom Kenyon, who told ABC 891 this morning he was “absolutely happy to be going to the next election fighting for a nuclear waste dump”.
The question now: is Jay Weatherill?
Because if he is – and he retains his belief that the electorate will reward ‘bold’ leadership – he could be set to once again stare down the dissenters on his own side.
That is, if he’s the Premier that he was three years ago.
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