At the recent West Australian election, a controversial preference deal between the Liberals and One Nation backfired on both, with a candidate quitting Pauline Hanson’s party on the eve of the election in protest and voters registering their disapproval against both sides.
But Xenophon’s state-themed party – SA Best – is expected to play a pivotal role in the SA poll in a year’s time, with seats such as Heysen, Davenport, Finniss, Mawson and Lee expected to be in its sights.
Xenophon told InDaily the question was “not my call”, but one for “the whole of the team” – which is yet to announce candidates or even in which seats they will run.
Frances Bedford’s stunning resignation from Labor this week – and the prospect of her running as an independent against Jack Snelling in Florey, a prospect she is still considering – has again highlighted Xenophon’s influence on the state election.
Bedford confirmed the SA senator has contacted her since she quit to reiterate his support for her campaign if she opts to run.
At last July’s federal election, Labor lobbied hard for a preference deal with NXT, which ultimately decided it would tarnish its “independent” brand if it horse-traded with major parties.
At the time, Labor’s state secretary Reggie Martin argued the decision would cost Xenophon’s fledgling party the chance to win three seats – Mayo, Barker and Grey – although in the end Rebekha Sharkie recurred a stunning victory in Mayo.
“Nick Xenophon was offered a very generous preference deal from the Labor Party,” Martin said at the time.
“But in my opinion he chose to protect his brand as an independent rather than [make] a preference deal which would likely have won him three seats in the House of Representatives.”
Martin said today it was “too early to say” whether Labor would still preference SA Best even if Xenophon did not come to the table on a deal.
“We’ll be talking to every party [about preferences] apart from One Nation and other like-minded parties,” he said.
Xenophon said he would “discuss with my colleagues what we’ll do [but] the likely scenario is we’ll [just] say ‘vote one for our candidates’”.
“It’s a [party] issue, but most people seem to like the idea that they’re entitled to put their own [preferences] where they want to,” he said.
“I think it reflects on the fact I reckon people are smart enough to make up their own mind… once they decide their first preference, they can make up their mind after that.”
He said while the decision not to do a deal with Labor may have hurt NXT federally in a seat such as Grey, there may have been a knock-on effect that would have damaged Sharkie’s chances in Mayo.
“We want to have a look at what the effect would be on other candidates, and all candidates will be part of the decision-making process,” he said.
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