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Former Lib candidate set to carry Xenophon flag in key seat

Politics

A former Liberal candidate who quit the party in protest at a factional deal that cost her preselection is set to run as Nick Xenophon’s SA Best candidate in the crucial beachside seat of Colton.

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Charles Sturt councillor Jassmine Wood has confirmed she intends to run under Xenophon’s banner at the March state election – a move that could cruel the Liberal Party’s hopes of snaring the key seat.

It comes as Labor today endorsed former Jay Weatherill media advisor Rik Morris to run against Frances Bedford in Florey, as forecast by InDaily a week ago. The ALP has also confirmed candidates in regional Stuart and the winnable southern suburbs seat of Gibson, where former Greens candidate Matthew Carey – the son of SANFL legend Peter – won party endorsement.

But it is the prospect of a strong third-party candidate in Colton that will have both major parties concerned, after the seat was retained by Labor in 2014 before becoming a nominal Liberal seat under last year’s boundary redistribution.

With a high-profile candidate in former Paralympian Matthew Cowdrey and the retirement of incumbent former minister Paul Caica, the Liberals had been eyeing off the seat – with a nominal 3.7 per cent margin in their favour – as a likely gain.

But Wood, a prominent local councillor who has run for the Liberals in both the federal seat of Hindmarsh and the state seat of West Torrens, says the fact there is no incumbent is “one of the things we considered when we decided to run for Colton”.

“I’m really the only one that comes close to an incumbent,” she told InDaily.

Jassmine Wood in a photo from her professional Facebook site.

She emphasised her candidacy was not yet finalised, although she said she has paid the requisite fee required for SA Best candidates to nominate, understood to be $20,000.

I left the party because I felt that the factions were setting the direction that the party was going in

Wood said she was drawn to SA Best because “Nick and I have worked really well together on a number of issues over the past few years”.

“I like Nick’s style of politics… SA Best just get around to business, rather than messing round with backroom deals,” she said.

“I haven’t been a Liberal for quite some time… I left the party because I felt that the factions were setting the direction that the party was going in, rather than good policy or what the people of SA wanted.

“I left the party because I didn’t believe in what they were doing anymore.”

She said she shared many policy and political concerns with Xenophon, including a focus on promoting ‘Australian-made’, supporting small business and “honesty in politics, which is a rare thing these days”.

Xenophon would not be drawn into confirming Wood’s nomination.

“We’re not saying anything about it at this stage,” he said.

“We’d expect an announcement [about SA Best candidates] before Christmas.”

InDaily reported in 2014 that a factional deal to deny Wood preselection in Colton may have hurt the Liberals in the electorate, which proved decisive when Labor held onto power by a single seat.

Former Federal Police officer and party vice-president Joe Barry won the preselection ballot narrowly despite Wood scoring the most votes, after all the remaining candidates directed their preferences against her (however, one has today denied doing so in response to this report).

At the time, party insiders told InDaily that “factional meddling” to secure the moderate faction’s numbers in the partyroom was placed above the “need to actually win an election”.

Wood later appealed to the Liberal Party, disputing the integrity of the pre-selection process.

Wood, then a member of the party’s right faction, alleged unfair treatment and grave irregularities in the ballot, but that was rejected by the appeals committee.

A senior party figure told InDaily in 2014: “Jassmine Wood was a good looking candidate, had a profile courtesy of her runs in West Torrens and Hindmarsh and had official links with key ethnic groups… so while the factional power players complain about unfair electoral systems depriving them of Government, they actually deprived themselves because their need to meddle got the better of them again.”

Asked about Wood’s concerns at the time, moderate faction powerbroker Christopher Pyne told ABC Radio: “It’s always disappointing for candidates when they lose preselections and sometimes they become quite disgruntled… most people who lose preselections think they’ve been dudded.”

While Xenophon remains coy about his roster of candidates, Labor today rubber-stamped another batch of hopefuls, including lawyer and former SA Commissioner for Aboriginal Engagement Khatijia Thomas in Stuart, held by senior Liberal Dan van Holst Pellekaan.

Carey – preselected for the new seat of Gibson, where Liberal Corey Wingard is the presumptive incumbent – has previously run as a state and federal candidate for the Greens, but quit to join Labor last year.

InDaily revealed in 2015 that he was regarded as a “competent” candidate by the Greens in a controversial 2015 report card on its then-federal candidates.

He “would be a passionate and capable advocate for the Greens, and would attract unique and positive community support, including in the media, because of his profile as a blind person”, the report card read.

Carey is blind due to a rare condition whereby the disc at the back of his eyes did not form.

“As the son of a famous former SANFL footballer, he had an early introduction to the demands of the media, and was known for his footy tips in the media as a young person… Matthew has an excellent understanding of politics, electoral matters, current affairs and a good understanding of the role of a senator,” the Greens report continued.

Labor is not considered likely to win Gibson, but with a nominal 3.2 per cent Liberal margin it is by no means out of calculations.

Matthew Carey, right, with fellow Greens candidates during last year’s federal election campaign. Photo: Facebook

Meanwhile, Morris – currently a senior executive at the Department of Premier and Cabinet – says he will be taking long service leave and has “ceased my communications responsibilities with immediate effect”.

It’s understood senior ALP powerbrokers wanted a female candidate to take on Bedford, but none of those favoured could be persuaded to run.

Morris becomes Labor’s Florey candidate after a bitter tug-of-war over the seat, after incumbent Bedford lost her preselection to a challenge from Health Minister Jack Snelling – who subsequently announced his retirement from parliament.

Bedford quit the party and confirmed this month she would run as an independent.

“It’s going to be a challenge, undoubtedly,” Morris said today.

“I grew up in the area, went to school in the area, played sport in the area… and I’m looking forward to moving back to the area,” he said, adding that he was “currently perusing” real estate websites with a view to relocating to the electorate.

Some in the party consider it effectively a Labor seat even if Bedford wins, which may not put Florey high on the ALP’s list for campaign funding, but Morris says “I guess they’re some of the conversations I need to have, to convince them otherwise”.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for Frances,” he said, but added his focus was about “Labor and its vision for the future, for the state and for Florey… and I’m the Labor candidate”.

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