The Florey incumbent, who lost her preselection for the seat after withdrawing from a doomed ballot with right-wing challenger Jack Snelling earlier this month, insists she has not made a decision about whether to stand again as an independent, but will continue to support the Weatherill Government as a crossbencher until the state election next March.
Her resignation from the ALP comes amid a backdrop of deep unrest within the party’s left factions, with a small gaggle of industrial unions recently voicing their displeasure at the administration of the influential Progressive Left Unions and Sub-Branches, even challenging a rubber-stamped deal to elevate Australian Workers’ Union official Justin Hanson to the Upper House.
It’s understood the group has since been in negotiations with PLUS Left convenors trying to broker a peace deal, with the federal seat of Makin – in which Bedford once threatened to run as an independent unless the party preselected then-Mayor Tony Zappia as its candidate – on the table as a bargaining chip.
However, discussions had stalled given a string of uncertainties, including the prospect of an SA seat being abolished in a forthcoming federal redistribution and the fact Zappia intends to recontest Makin at the next election.
Insiders say that while Bedford’s decision to quit the party was no surprise, the timing of her announcement took even her supporters aback, and “may well blow the deal up”.
InDaily has been told Bedford had been a party to the factional discussions, but she did not return calls today.
She did however do a round of radio interviews, in which she told ABC Radio Adelaide she has “never been a [factional] mover and a shaker” but was “basically a kindy mum who still wants to have her say and I’m saying ‘I think this isn’t right’”.
She later told FIVEaa a decision about whether to run against Snelling “hasn’t been made”, however “if I made a decision of any variety I always do my very best to win”.
“I don’t get out of bed to come second – I always do my best,” she said.
“So it would go without saying that I’d give everything I do 100 per cent.”
InDaily has been told there have been separate discussions about running Bedford’s preferred successor in Florey, former federal candidate for Sturt Matthew Loader, in Steven Marshall’s marginal eastern suburbs seat of Dunstan.
While that deal has not been confirmed, it would be considered very much a consolation prize, given Marshall – as Liberal leader – would be expected to hold the seat at the March poll.
Loader has not responded to inquiries about running in Dunstan.
Snelling laid claim to Florey after around 17,000 electors from his safe seat of Playford were shifted across into its borders in the recent redistribution, comprising the vast majority of the seat’s 23,500 voters.
I don’t think Jack Snelling in his 40s wants to lose his livelihood and his vocation… he’s got a young family to support
However, Bedford today indicated she believed she had strong support across the new seat.
“I know people like me, I want to see how much they like me,” she said, indicating she would seek community support before deciding whether to run as an independent.
“I mean, Ingle Farm and Pooraka and Walkley Heights are admittedly not in Florey at the moment, but they’re well contained within the boundaries of Makin and I’ve always worked the Makin seat… wherever you go you meet people and you keep in touch and I guess that’s why I’ve remained close to the community because… it’s corny, but I’ve devoted my life to the job.”
Whether she keeps her current job as deputy speaker remains to be seen, with Weatherill today indicating “there’s no intention to change that in the short term”.
I’m still walking, I’m still perpendicular, my brain still works… I’m not sure why that’s a problem
That could, however, lead to some awkward interactions with Speaker Michael Atkinson, who hit the airwaves today evidently taking on the mantle as Labor’s unofficial spokesman on the matter.
Atkinson pressed Snelling’s credentials on ABC radio, saying he was “20 years younger than Frances Bedford, he’s got a young family to support and he doesn’t want to leave politics understandably”.
“I don’t think Jack Snelling in his 40s wants to lose his livelihood and his vocation so he’s standing for a seat, 70 per cent of which is the seat he currently represents,” he said.
Atkinson said Bedford had initially demanded Loader be handed the number two Legislative Council position eventually given instead to her nemesis Hanson.
“So I think she was willing to go and retire but when the party wouldn’t accept her choice… she’s taken the decision she has,” he said.
“Frances has been in politics for 20 years, she’ll be 68 by the end of the next term and she wanted her protégé to be in a rock solid position on the ticket and the party didn’t come across for that.”
The carve-up of seats under the redistribution has also handed Playford to Snelling’s factional colleague, former ALP state secretary Michael Brown.
Bedford suggested the encroachment of the Right faction was another factor in her decision to quit Labor, saying: “It’s fair to say that a left-wing progressive vote is lost to parliament and I’m not sure that’s a good thing… whoever it is.”
Responding to Atkinson’s implication that she should make way for the younger Snelling, she said: “Well, so much for 60 is the new 40 is all I can say.”
“I’m 63… I mean, I’m not sure which part of me they’re worried about. I’m still walking, I’m still perpendicular, my brain still works. I’m not sure why that’s a problem.”
Weatherill blamed the redistribution for the whole fiasco, telling reporters “Frances’s seat has really been split up and scattered into a number of pieces, so it doesn’t exist in the same way”.
“Her seat’s been scattered to the four winds… it’s really just a consequence of the redistribution,” he said.
However, he suggested her departure would make little material difference to his Government.
“I’ve spoken to her today, and I’ve said she’ll be treated with respect… she’s said she’s still a strong supporter of mine, she’ll still support Labor Party principles and programs, so I suppose in a practical sense it won’t make much difference to the day to day running of parliament,” he said.
“If she does choose to [run] that will be a matter for her [but] we’ve got a strong local candidate… we’ll be presenting a strong local platform for the people of Florey and asking them to choose Labor.”
Nick Xenophon has already offered his support for Bedford, and she has not ruled out running under his SA Best banner.
“Well, you never say never in politics,” she told ABC radio.
“But I doubt it… I mean, my values are very obvious to people and I’ve always thought the two-party system is our strongest asset – but it can be our biggest problem too.
“If we could get that two-party system working really well, we could produce some real stability for people and some really great decisions.”
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