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Redmond to ousted deputy: 'I'm so sorry'

Politics

Isobel Redmond maintains the Liberal Party would not have won the last state election had she remained as leader, despite her former deputy telling parliament “there would have been a change of government” had she stayed on.

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Redmond and her one-time offsider Mitch Williams made farewell speeches to parliament yesterday, shining an illuminating light on their insights into recent state political machinations as they did so.

Williams captured the attention of Labor MPs with an apparent dig at current Liberal leader Steven Marshall, who led the party to a narrow defeat in 2014 despite capturing a strong statewide majority.

The retiring member for regional MacKillop – a longtime campaigner for electoral redistribution reform – said he had “a good feeling about there being some change [of government] next March”.

“Having said that, I have no doubt that if Isobel Redmond had been allowed by some of my colleagues to do what she was doing, and what she was doing very well, to proceed to the last election, there would have been a change of government,” he said.

“I have no doubt.”

He argued opinion polls just months before her resignation put the Liberals at 57 per cent of the two-party vote, “yet there was a serious movement against Isobel, and the rest is history”.

Marshall told InDaily: “I don’t really want to re-prosecute what occurred five years ago.”

For her part, Redmond herself spoke of her ongoing support and affection for Marshall, insisting she relinquished the leadership – on the morning of a country Liberal ‘love-in’ – when “I came to the certain realisation that we could not win the election with me as leader”.

The first woman to lead a major party in SA described herself as “the Steven Bradbury of South Australian Liberal politics”, having won the leadership after Martin Hamilton-Smith resigned, despite himself winning a party-room ballot by just one vote.

She thanked Williams and his predecessor as her deputy, Steven Griffiths, who earlier this week spoke of the personal turmoil he experienced after a campaign gaffe that was widely seen as contributing to the party’s 2010 election loss.

Redmond subsequently demanded his resignation after the poll – a move she now regards as among her biggest regrets.

“One of my clearest regrets, and a complete failure of good judgment on my part, was that I asked [Griffiths] to step down as my deputy after the 2010 election,” she said.

“He mentioned… what a hard blow that was to him although, being the good and faithful deputy that he was, he accepted it with good grace and continued thereafter to work hard for the cause.

“The reason for my request was that the member for Goyder had, in an interview right at the end of a long and successful campaign, phrased a response to a question in a way that allowed the government a last chance to turn their fortunes around. It was never done with malice or with any intention to do anything but assist the cause. Nevertheless, it was seen as one of two things [the other being Vickie Chapman’s refusal to rule out a leadership tilt] in the last week that saw us fall short of achieving government.

“With the benefit of hindsight, I am not convinced of that, but everyone advised me that I had to ditch [Griffiths] as my deputy… My instincts said otherwise, but all the advice from every direction was that he had to go, and I have regretted ever since that, instead of following my instinct to keep him as deputy, I listened to advice from supposedly wiser political heads.”

Redmond apologised to Griffiths in parliament, adding that “’sorry’, some time later, no matter how genuine, cannot really make up for the damage done”.

She was less affectionate towards another former deputy – albeit one who lasted only a matter of days before she demanded a second ballot to remove him – Martin Hamilton-Smith, whom she alleged “came to my office” after the 2010 poll “and explained to me that clearly any electoral success we had enjoyed was because of his policies and had nothing to do with me at all”.

“Now that the election was out of the way, it was time for me to step out of the way and allow him to resume his rightful place as leader,” she told parliament.

“I knew, of course, from the moment I declined that generous offer that there were now at least two separate agendas operating within the party room—actually, there were more.

“Happily, he is now the other side’s problem and I have never known our party room to be more united.”

The former leader spoke candidly about her ordeal at the Liberal helm, calling the period “the most difficult, debilitating, isolating and physically and emotionally exhausting experience of my life”.

“The first time I was asked about whether I would do it again, about a year after I had stood down, I was unable to answer because even a year later the awful negative aspects, which left me feeling emotionally battered, still overwhelmed any contemplation of the positives,” she said.

“Now, almost five years on, I have regained enough of my resilience and centre balance, enough of myself, to say, yes, I probably would.

“The bad times, which took me to some pretty dark places, cannot overwhelm the amazing experiences I had, most of which involved the people of this state opening their hearts and their minds and, often, even their homes to me.”

Also making a valedictory speech yesterday was former Health Minister Jack Snelling, who in 2011 rose to infamy as one of two executioners – along with his replacement in Health Peter Malinauskas – who conveyed to Mike Rann that his time was up.

“There was no doubt that he commanded the support of a majority of the wider party, and any attempt by the right faction to use its numbers in caucus to impose someone else would be badly received,” Snelling recalled.

“All this had to be communicated to Mike, and the job of doing so was given to me.

“The great shame is that it became known that the meeting was happening even before it had happened, and, instead of Mike being able to retire gracefully, he was publicly backed into a corner and humiliated.

“Mike has never forgiven me, and this is one of my greatest regrets.

“If I had spoken to Mike on my own and the meeting had not leaked, the transition could have been better managed and I do not think he would harbour such bitterness.

“But I am comforted by the knowledge that we made the right decision, winning in 2014, and I believe our last term has been at least as good as our first.”

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