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McFetridge seeks big favour from “stupid” former party

Politics

New laws governing state elections have forced Opposition defector Duncan McFetridge to write to his former party seeking permission to describe himself as an ‘independent Liberal’.

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The Morphett MP, who quit the Liberals last year after he was rolled in a preselection coup and subsequently vowed to run as an independent, insists he still retains “Liberal principles” – although he admits he isn’t sure what the party stands for.

He also remains adamant that, if elected, he’ll help his former colleagues form government if required – despite lamenting the number of “stupid things” they do.

Attorney-General John Rau last year passed several reforms through parliament, ostensibly to “give South Australians greater confidence in the democratic process”.

One of those changes meant that candidates cannot use the word “independent” on election material alongside “the registered name of a registered political party” unless they provide the Electoral Commissioner “with a declaration signed by a person authorised by the relevant parliamentary party or registered political party” giving permission to do so.

McFetridge told InDaily he had written to Liberal Party president John Olsen “but I haven’t had a response yet”.

Olsen said he had received the correspondence.

“I haven’t got a position as of today [and] I’m not willing to comment further,” he said.

If the permission is not forthcoming, McFetridge will have to refer to himself merely as an “independent”. It would also undoubtedly heighten tensions between the former frontbencher and his one-time party ahead of a state election in which the winner will almost certainly be anointed with crossbench support.

McFetridge has previously declared that support would be forthcoming if the Liberals relied on his vote to seize power for the first time since 2002, and in the meantime “I’m still putting in print and telling everybody that I’ve still got my Liberal principles”.

“If Steven Marshall needs me to form a Liberal Government, I’m there,” he said, but added that if the Liberals were unable to put together a majority he would work with Labor or SA Best to ensure “the best deal for the people of Morphett”.

He remains bitter about his treatment, having lost preselection by a single vote after being booted from shadow cabinet in a reshuffle this time last year.

“What they did to me was one of the dumbest things, and they continue to do very stupid things,” he said of his former colleagues.

“It’s rather sad.”

Asked why he would support a party that does stupid things, he noted: “Hopefully with my experience they’d be doing wise things.”

“Experience counts,” he added.

“I won’t be sitting back toeing the party line like I had to as a member of shadow cabinet for 12 years.”

In comments that echoed those of fellow defector Sam Johnson – the Port Augusta mayor who yesterday announced he was leaving the Liberal fold to run for Nick Xenophon’s SA Best in the Upper House – McFetridge said the Opposition was “just not cutting through”.

“I think that politics is the art of making the impossible possible… they’ve got to make sure they cut through,” he said.

“They’ll say out they’ve put out all these policies, but they’re not cutting through…I’m not sure what the Liberal Party stand for.

“I’m not sure who’s advising [leader Steven] Marshall at the moment [but] he needs to think about the types of advice he’s getting.”

An adviser to Marshall told InDaily in a statement that “the Liberal Party has a strong plan that will deliver the right environment for job creation and ease cost of living pressures”.

“We’re focused on discussing our plan with South Australians, not the views of Mr McFetridge,” the statement said.

In a similar rebuke, Johnson – who will run third on SA Best’s Legislative Council ticket – yesterday told The Advertiser website that he didn’t know what the Liberal Party stood for.

“The message isn’t clear,” he said.

“I didn’t believe I could stand up and fly the flag… I wasn’t sure what the flag actually represented anymore.”

McFetridge, who wants to promote himself as an Independent Liberal on campaign material and the election day ballot on March 17, says he’s delighted with how his campaign is progressing.

InDaily has been told a recent $35 a head Christmas campaign fundraiser was a sell-out, with McFetridge confirming he had “almost record numbers for a Liberal fundraiser” in Morphett.

Rau told InDaily today his electoral act changes relevant to McFetridge’s situation – which passed in August – were designed “to try and stop people passing themselves off as something that they aren’t”.

“The motivation was to stop people deliberately confusing voters by making themselves out to be something they’re not,” he said.

It means that had he not pulled the pin on his campaign this week, fellow Liberal defector Martin Hamilton-Smith – who declared himself an “independent Liberal” in Waite – would have needed permission from his former colleagues to use their party name in his campaign material.

It seems highly unlikely such permission would have been granted.

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