Atkinson today emerged from a Labor caucus meeting in which MPs were briefed by state secretary Reggie Martin about the implications of the electoral districts boundaries commission draft report, which effectively hands two marginal Labor seats to the Liberals – provided they can recreate the 53 per cent statewide vote they garnered at the 2014 state election.
Asked whether he was happy with the proposed redistribution, Atkinson – who boasts the ALP’s safest state seat – replied: “Is the Bishop of Damascus a Maronite?”
But he said he had analysed the implications for three state seats occupying the same territory as the federal electorate of Mayo, which Xenophon candidate Rebekha Sharkie sensationally won in last month’s double dissolution poll, and believes the Liberals will be under siege in all three.
“The problem with this for the Liberals is because Rebekha Sharkie won Mayo and has all the resources of a federal division office, Heysen, Kavel and Finniss all have to be vulnerable to the Nick Xenophon Team,” Atkinson said.
The blue-ribbon coastal seat is held by Liberal backbencher Michael Pengilly, who is yet to clarify his future intentions.
He told InDaily in May the commission’s findings would “determine what happens with a number of people” on both sides of politics, in terms of whether MPs contemplating retirement chose to hang on for another term.
Atkinson provocatively noted that NXT’s chances would be helped because “two of the three seats will have retiring members”.
When pressed, he suggested Pengilly and Heysen incumbent Isobel Redmond would not re-contest their respective seats.
“Now that the NXT holds the federal division of Mayo, it gives it a springboard to challenge… the great threat to the Libs is not Labor but NXT,” Atkinson said.
He said the Xenophon factor didn’t make the much-anticipated redistribution redundant – “it just makes it very interesting”.
Asked by InDaily about Atkinson’s comments, Pengilly replied: “He would say that, wouldn’t he? He’ll do anything to stir the pot, old Mick.”
Pengilly said the state poll was a “different dynamic” to the federal election.
“You can’t compare the result with [former Mayo Liberal MP Jamie] Briggs, which was going to happen, to a state election,” he said.
“If [voters] want a change of Government they’ll have to vote for the Liberal Party.”
He said he would “just wait and see” on his own future: “I’ll just sit back and wait until it’s all cleared up in November, then I’ll make my intentions known.”
The one-time Kangaroo Island mayor has seen his island home shifted into Labor MP Leon Bignell’s seat of Mawson, now nominally a marginal Liberal seat.
However, he said there were “only a couple of thousand votes on the island”, and suggested it was too early to gauge the likely Xenophon vote.
“I think with Rebekha Sharkie in Mayo, she’s going to be on a fairly steep learning curve and what she does will also impact their interests,” he said.
Xenophon agreed, saying “it’s simply too early to say” how the party would fare if it made a concerted run at state parliament.
“It’s all too premature,” he told InDaily.
“We’re still dealing with the aftermath of the federal election: ask us in three months.”
Xenophon said he had “looked at the boundaries commission preliminary findings with interest, but it’s much too early to say and depends on a whole range of factors”.
However, he gave a strong indication his fledgling party would play a role.
“It’s good for democracy for it to be more than a two-horse race,” he said.
“It’s healthy for democracy: it might mean that others lift their game.”
Asked whether he had been given undertakings from either Pengilly or Redmond about their futures, Opposition Leader Steven Marshall said: “Those things are for individual members to make their own indications”.
“It’s way too early in the electoral cycle to be making these decisions,” he said.
However, he said there was “no doubt people would take [the redrawn boundaries] into account when they make a decision as to whether to retire”.
“I’d be surprised if people didn’t take a look at their boundaries in considering their future,” he said.
The Liberal Party has already flagged a fresh submission objecting to the draft review, which it says could once again hand Labor a majority of seats with less than 50 per cent of the two-party vote.
“I think what the people of SA really want is a fair set of boundaries so that they get the Government they actually vote for,” he said.
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