Australian Conservatives state leader Dennis Hood says the party has spoken to around “four or five” prominent disaffected Liberal members, some of whom have since signed on with the new outfit.
And he’s adamant the minor party will present an electoral force at the March state election, saying he’s confident a seven per cent primary vote in yesterday’s Newspoll in the federal NSW seat of Bennelong will translate to the SA election battlefront.
InDaily revealed on Monday that former state and federal Liberal candidate Jassmine Wood intended to run for Xenophon’s new political venture, which is a significant chance to hold the balance of power in parliament’s lower house after the March state election.
Xenophon is yet to confirm his next batch of candidates, but is set to do so within days.
But Hood – who steered his former Family First party into an amalgamation with Senator Cory Bernardi’s new outfit in April – has confirmed he also spoke to Wood about joining the Conservatives.
Wood was a member of the Liberal Party’s right faction before she quit, having complained of a factional stitch-up that saw her miss out of preselection in Colton at the 2014 election. Labor’s Paul Caica, who is retiring ahead of the 2018 poll, went on to retain the seat by less than 700 votes.
“Yes, she did,” Hood said when asked whether Wood spoke to him about joining the Conservatives.
“It was never taken very far… it was very much a preliminary discussion. We left it that we would leave it at that for then and it was never pursued.”
Hood emphasised that while Wood “wasn’t specifically approaching us to join us… she was interested”.
“We didn’t get to that stage,” he said.
“We never pursued it… it was never going to be pursued from our end.”
He said the pair had a conversation around “‘should I be joining the Australian Conservatives’… along those lines, more so than a candidacy”.
“Certainly no seat was discussed,” he added.
Wood’s version of events is slightly different.
There’s no story here about how I’m a huge conservative
“I went in to see Dennis Hood about a particular issue, and in that conversation, he talked to me about what my ambitions were and [that] they’d be happy to have me in any capacity,” she told InDaily.
“There was nothing confirmed or offered or anything like that… we talked about prospects… he asked me to consider joining the [party].
“I considered all of my options and SA Best was the best fit for me.”
Wood doesn’t share Hood’s confidence about the Conservatives’ polling figures.
“They’re polling at 3 per cent… I don’t think there’s a seat there that’s going to happen [for them],” she said.
But she insists her decision to run with SA Best ideological as well as practical, saying: “There’s no story here about how I’m a huge conservative.”
“I’m a member of SA Best for a reason… because that was where I fit in,” she said.
Earlier this week, she enthused about “Nick’s style of politics”, saying “SA Best just get around to business, rather than messing round with backroom deals”.
“I left the [Liberal] party because I didn’t believe in what they were doing anymore,” she said at the time, adding that she shared Xenophon’s focus on promoting ‘Australian-made’, supporting small business and “honesty in politics, which is a rare thing these days”.
She said she joined the Liberal Right faction “but that was more a personality thing in the Liberal Party, especially at a state level”.
“Some people join factions because of policy, obviously, but some people join because of who they’re mates with to begin with,” she said.
“I went with SA Best for a reason, because that was my preferred option… there were offers coming from all different angles [and] I chose to go with Nick.”
Wood says she “spoke to a lot of people” before deciding which party to join, adding she also had a personal text message from Liberal leader Steven Marshall encouraging her to consider nominating for the party again.
A spokesman for Marshall strongly denied this, saying in a statement: “The claims made by Ms Wood are untrue… Steven did not send the text message that you have referred to. Any accusation to the contrary is completely false.”
Wood has declined to provide the message to InDaily.
Hood told InDaily Wood was one of “say four or five” Liberal members who have spoken to the party about jumping ship, “some” of whom subsequently did so.
He declined to name them, saying the party membership entitled signatories to anonymity.
Hood pointed to the Bennelong Newspoll published yesterday in The Australian, which put the Conservatives on 7 per cent, a figure he says is consistent with what he has been told by major party insiders about their local polling.
“It’s fair to say we’re not unhappy,” he said of the figures he had been made aware of.
“We’d be hopeful that [NSW result] reflects here in SA… I expect it will – it remains to be seen, but that’s our expectation.”
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