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Labor warns Xenophon over preference stalemate

Politics

A standoff over preferences at the March state election could prove decisive in several crucial seats, with Labor warning looming kingmaker Nick Xenophon it won’t be lending vital support to his fledgling SA Best party “for nothing”.

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Xenophon today emphatically reaffirmed his party’s preference to run an open ticket at the state election, as it did in last year’s federal poll.

That would mean handing out how-to-vote cards putting the SA Best candidate first but not directing preferences to any other candidate.

“Yes, that’s what we’ve said, and that’s what we’re planning to do,” Xenophon told InDaily.

“At this stage we’re looking at an open ticket… our philosophy is [for] an open ticket.”

A Galaxy poll commissioned by the Australian Bankers’ Association and published by The Australian newspaper last week showed the state election resembling a classic three-cornered contest, with the Liberals’ primary vote on 31 per cent, Xenophon’s party on 30 and Labor on 26.

However, SA Best is expected to do well in key seats currently held by the Liberals, with the assumption that it will surf over the top of Opposition candidates with the help of Labor preferences.

But ALP state secretary Reggie Martin insisted today: “That’s not a given.”

“Labor is currently talking to parties about preference arrangements, and we’ll be seeking to get the best deal we possibly can for the Labor Party,” he told InDaily.

“With that in mind, it will be unlikely that we’ll be giving preferences away for nothing.”

At the time of the federal election, Martin revealed he had offered Xenophon a preference deal that would have guaranteed his NXT three lower house seats – Mayo, Barker and Grey. He refused, and Labor instead ran a split ticket – which it is threatening to do again at the state poll.

In the event, NXT still won one of the federal seats in question, the Hills seat of Mayo.

The Liberals retained the other two – and Malcolm Turnbull was returned to power with a one-seat national majority, which ironically suggests the stalemate may have hurt Labor more than it did Xenophon.

Xenophon noted today: “I’m sure they’ll have discussions with us… but maybe not on preferences.”

The high polling for SA Best, combined with Xenophon’s own shock decision to seek to re-enter state parliament, has thrown the state campaign into chaos. Party insiders are countenancing scenarios whereby either the Liberals or Labor could come third in overall seats.

For the Liberals, the worry is that only the Australian Conservatives are likely to direct preferences their way – which would not be enough to garner them the 50 per cent-plus required to secure several key seats.

Liberal state president John Olsen told InDaily: “Whilst there might have been some casual discussions [about preferences], there’s been absolutely nothing to this point that’s even been considered or gone to any forum for discussion, so it’s a blank sheet of paper at this stage [as far as] where we get to.”

One insider told InDaily Xenophon could even secure as many as 24 seats – enough to govern in his own right – but only if he ran candidates across the board.

“We have six candidates at the moment, so it’s idle speculation,” Xenophon said.

“People should focus on issues that matter to SA.”

Labor has recently preselected a glut of new candidates, including Tony Webb in Heysen, Julie Watson in Flinders, Mat O’Brien in Hammond and Sim Singh-Malhi in Chaffey.

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