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"It’s one of the dumbest things the Liberal Party ever did..."

Politics

Nick Xenophon’s SA Best is not expected to field a candidate in the emerging key election battleground of Morphett, while a former Labor candidate says his party is unlikely to win the seat - with cashed-up independent Duncan McFetridge set to benefit at his former party’s expense.

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The ousted Liberal has told InDaily he had spoken to all parties and believed Xenophon would not run a candidate against him.

“Yes, that’s my understanding at this stage,” he said.

“Xenophon won’t be putting a candidate up – he’ll be backing me as an independent Liberal.”

Xenophon was equivocal, saying his fledgling state-based party was “still going through a process on candidates”, with a state election team likely to be unveiled around September.

“A final decision still has to be made, but what I can say is we’d much rather have Duncan McFetridge there rather than a Liberal or Labor candidate,” he said.

“If it’s a choice of a Liberal or Labor candidate there’s no question Duncan McFetridge would be the preferred candidate, but we need to make a final decision as to the best use of our limited resources.”

McFetridge says he understands the seat will be a four-horse race, with the Greens expected to run and preference Labor.

“My understanding is [Australian Conservatives] won’t be running a candidate, and I’ve no indication anybody else is going to put their hand up,” he said.

“Labor have said they’ll preference me above the Liberals.”

That would mean if he finishes first or second on primaries, he is highly likely to retain the bayside seat he’s held since 2002.

The Labor candidate who has faced him in every poll since, three-time candidate Tim Looker, wrote on his blog last week that “Labor regard Morphett as unlikely to be winnable”.

“Anything could happen but the odds are stacked against a Labor victory this time,” he wrote.

“I expect Labor will preference Duncan, even though Duncan must preference Liberal as a responsibility to his base.”

Looker said his former Holdfast council colleague (now mayor) Stephen Patterson “comes into the contest with blood on his hands” after rolling McFetridge for the Liberal candidacy by a single vote.

“(He) is being viewed as having shafted a popular local member… not a good start,” said Looker.

InDaily asked Looker about his comments, and he said Morphett was inherently “a conservative seat”, and Labor would only “put the effort into the seats they think they can win”.

I think Duncan will win it

He said when he ran for Labor in three consecutive elections, he was effectively left to his own devices, being told “raise your own money, do what you like but don’t cause us any grief”.

“Duncan’s certainly out there… even Labor people are saying he’s a good candidate – he’s almost one of us really,” he said.

“He’s quite progressive in his views… there’s very little Duncan and I disagree on.

“I’ll give him a bit of support… if he comes second the preferences will flow strongly his way, and I don’t know how good Patterson is at campaigning.

“I think Duncan will win it.”

ALP state secretary Reggie Martin told InDaily Looker was “not a spokesperson for the party”.

“Labor thinks Morphett is a very interesting seat,” he said.

“We’ve got a great candidate (Mark Siebentritt) and he’s looking forward to putting up a good campaign.”

He said he had not spoken to McFetridge about preferences “but ultimately it’s a decision for state executive and they haven’t considered preference arrangements yet”.

McFetridge agreed with Looker that he was “probably one of the smaller-L liberals”, saying: “The Liberal and Labor attitudes on policy have come closer together over the years.”

“I certainly am open to discussions on Labor policies, but Steven Marshall knows that if he needs me to form a Liberal government he’s got me,” he said.

“If the Liberals can form government, I’ll be there to support them… if they can’t form government I’ll be holding negotiations with whoever can, to make sure the outcomes for people of Morphett are the very best I can get. And that’s what it’s all about.”

McFetridge said he was “further ahead in my campaign organisation that I’ve ever been”, with declarations of support, volunteers and campaign material already printed.

“It’s a good position to be in… the support has been humbling, to say the least,” he said.

He’s beholden to the $100,000 campaign spending cap now imposed on unendorsed lower house candidates, and he implied that he’s likely to stump up a significant amount of that himself.

“I’m prepared to put up as much as it takes,” he said, adding that he and his family had “made this conscious decision” to dip into their own coffers.

“I’m fortunate enough to be in a position where I can do that, and I’m prepared to put my money where my mouth is.

“If the people of Morphett reject me, I can live with that… I’m psychologically prepared that if that happens I’m going to have given it my best.”

But he says “massive boundaries changes” have made the seat effectively marginal.

It was a seriously dumb move by the Liberal Party to take me on

While the electoral commission ranks it with a 7.7 per cent buffer based on last election’s 53 per cent statewide Liberal vote, McFetridge argues on a 50-50 split the margin is around 4.7, and very much key to the forthcoming election.

“Very much so – on a 50-50 basis it really is a marginal seat… I’ll be doing everything I can to make sure I’m still the member for Morphett come March ’18,” he said.

“I’ve got the time, support and resources… it was a seriously dumb move by the Liberal Party to take on me.

“I personally think it’s one of the dumbest things the Liberal Party ever did, quite honestly. They had Morphett on a plate… (Morialta MP) John Gardner and I were the only two (Liberals) who increased their majority.”

Aptly, Gardner also faced a brief preselection challenge in Morialta.

Noting the infamous meeting over beer and pizza that sealed Frome independent Geoff Brock’s support for Labor, McFetridge ominously declared: “It’ll be Beef Wellington and a very nice bottle of red [for me].”

Patterson told InDaily he was “interested in delivering better outcomes for the residents of Morphett [and] I’m not interested in the petty political games and fanciful insider stories that Mr Looker is focussed on”.

“I live in Glenelg South with my family and have served my local community as a volunteer lifesaver and in local government as mayor,” he said.

“I have the skills and life experience as an electrical engineer and business owner to make a difference for the Morphett community at this point in the state’s history and into the future.”

Siebentritt did not respond to inquiries.

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