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Internal tensions escalate as Libs block challenge to Gardner

Politics

The Liberal Party’s state executive has dramatically intervened to quash a concerted preselection challenge to frontbencher John Gardner, a key factional ally of Opposition Leader Steven Marshall.

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InDaily revealed on Friday that right-winger Simon Le Poidevin had launched a shock bid to replace Gardner – a key moderate-faction powerbroker and the party’s education spokesman – for Liberal preselection in his seat of Morialta.

However it’s understood he was last night barred from contesting a ballot – a ballot Liberal insiders believe he was well-placed to win – after a heated candidate review grilling conducted by party powerbrokers via teleconference to Le Poidevin’s Sydney home.

Le Poidevin, a lawyer and officer in the Army Reserve, told InDaily today he had no comment but was “considering [his] options”.

The decision could have major repercussions within the party, after a concerted challenge by members of the conservative faction to plant their flag in Gardner’s seat.

One told InDaily the numbers were “bloody close” had the matter been brought to a sub-branch ballot.

“This wasn’t throwing a dart at a dartboard… it was meticulously planned,” the source said.

However, it’s understood members of the right on the party’s state executive were among those that agreed to block Le Poidevin’s candidacy – a motion it’s understood was moved by Shadow Treasurer Rob Lucas, who did not return calls today – suggesting a splintering within the faction.

Parliament June 8th-2054

Gardner. Photo: Nat Rogers / InDaily

As InDaily reported last week, the challenge was predicated on changes under the recent boundary redistribution, which shifted almost 5000 voters into Morialta from the hills seat of Kavel – a seat with a history of conservative-leaning members, including Mark and Roger Goldsworthy and former premier John Olsen.

Some within the party are concerned that Gardner – an archetypal moderate and ‘small-L liberal’ – is the wrong fit for a conservative electorate under the new boundaries.

Interestingly, though, some in the party have noted that Gardner voted against type on fellow moderate Duncan McFetridge’s euthanasia bill last year, a decision the MP ascribed to reservations about “certain safeguards, matters to do with requiring a second opinion of the initial diagnosis, requiring informed consent and requiring a confirmation by mental health professionals that somebody was not suffering from treatable depression”.

But regardless, the party’s state executive has opened a can of worms by rejecting the candidacy of a party member choosing to challenge a sitting member.

There have been calls in recent times for the leadership to intervene in preselections, most notably to ensure that star recruit Matt Cowdrey won the vote in Colton (which he did easily in any case against a challenge from former Premier Dean Brown’s son Alex).

Marshall’s response at the time was to insist it is “not the leader’s role in the Liberal Party to preselect candidates”.

“The candidates in the Liberal Party are selected by the members of the branch… it’s a great process which produces the best outcome,” he said, insisting he would “work with anybody that’s put forward by the college.”

But the rejection of Le Poidevin makes a mockery of frequent Liberal assertions that its preselection processes – while irredeemably messy affairs – are at least democratic.

While there is no official recourse to a decision of the candidate review process, it sets a bizarre precedent.

Le Poidevin has previously faced a preselection ballot in Ashford – which means he has previously been vetted by the candidate review committee and passed.

If, then, the rationale is that he is rocking the boat by challenging a sitting member, the party should also nix the candidacy of both Matt Williams and Stephen Patterson in Morphett, where incumbent McFetridge has made it clear he intends to go on.

It has also been suggested the fact Le Poidevin moved to Sydney for work three years ago was a factor in his rejection – although presumably he was prepared to relocate if preselected, just as Singapore-based businessman Grant Kelley would have done had he decided to run for Morphett.

The Liberals won’t have to justify their decision externally, but insiders argue there will be plenty of questions asked within the party.

“There’s a schism… the right’s broken into a number of pieces,” said one insider.

“There will be repercussions – I think the behaviour will be remembered.”

Marshall told InDaily today he had no say in rejecting Le Poidevin’s nomination.

“I wasn’t even at the meeting… those things are dealt with by the party, not the parliamentary team,” he said.

“The Liberal Party leader doesn’t decide… we can have preferences, but ultimately the party decides those things.”

State director Sascha Meldrum did not respond to inquiries today.

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