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Liberal showdown: "My seat is not a recycling depot for a failed MP"

Politics

Liberal insiders are confident former federal rising star Matt Williams will throw his hat in the ring to challenge dumped state frontbencher Duncan McFetridge in his bayside fortress of Morphett when nominations close this week.

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But the suggestion has drawn a strident response from the incumbent, who hit out at the “failed federal member”, setting the tone for a spiteful preselection showdown in the plum Liberal seat.

Williams, a member of the party’s moderate wing who currently works as an adviser to senator Simon Birmingham, lost his western suburbs seat of Hindmarsh at last year’s federal poll, being narrowly ousted after one term by the seat’s previous tenant, Labor’s Steve Georganas.

Williams has long been linked to a tilt at state parliament in Morphett, with McFetridge conceding as far back as 2015 that he was aware of discussions about the young Turk succeeding him.

However, the 65-year-old’s decision to continue on for another term – despite recently getting turfed from Steven Marshall’s frontbench in a reshuffle – has ensured that no interloper can claim Morphett without getting their hands bloody, by challenging a sitting member in a sub-branch ballot.

Williams was unavailable to respond to inquiries today, but several party sources have told InDaily they believe he will throw his hat in the ring before nominations close on Friday.

It’s understood he has told supporters he has decided to nominate, although he has not yet done so.

But the prospect of a challenge prompted a strong slap-down from McFetridge, who told InDaily by text message: “Morphett is neither a consolation prize nor a recycling depot for a failed federal member.”

McFetridge, like Williams, is a moderate Liberal, however there have been calls within the party for generational change.

Matt-Williams-and-Malcolm-Turnbull-Hindmarsh-AAP-850x455

Matt Williams campaigning in Hindmarsh with PM Malcolm Turnbull before last year’s election. Photo: AAP

Nonetheless, he is considered to have a strong personal following in his local branch, although the redrawn electoral boundaries could complicate the equation. The seat will subsume a significant proportion of members from Ashford, and cede several more to neighbouring Colton – when former premier Dean Brown’s son Alex will this week face off against Paralympic champion Matt Cowdrey in a ballot for Liberal preselection.

Morphett’s nominal margin has also almost halved, from 13 per cent to 7.7 – albeit still safely Liberal.

McFetridge has previously railed against the notion he should retire merely because he would be turning 66 before next year’s March election. He told InDaily last month: “This ageist, racist, sexist talk about ‘old white men’ is really giving me the shits, quite frankly.”

“I’ve got unfinished business and I’m going to continue on,” he insisted.

Nominations close this week for a glut of Liberal seats – including Narungga (formerly Goyder), where another ousted frontbencher, one-time Liberal deputy leader Steven Griffiths, is retiring.

There is also a ‘Super Saturday’ of sorts being held on the weekend, with ballots for four key seats: Colton, Badcoe, Lee and Davenport, where former Brown and Olsen Government minister Wayne Matthew is seeking a political comeback.

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