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Party over for "Independent Libs" as McFetridge snubbed by former colleagues

Politics

The term “Independent Liberal” will never again be formally used in South Australian elections after the state Liberals this week resolved to ban the use of the term, in a rebuff to former party frontbencher Duncan McFetridge.

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InDaily revealed last week that McFetridge had sought written permission from his former party to call himself an “Independent Liberal” in the bayside seat of Morphett. It followed changes to the Electoral Act that stipulated no independent candidate can borrow the name of a registered political party without written consent.

Despite one-time Liberal leader Martin Hamilton-Smith repeatedly referring to himself as an “Independent Liberal”, McFetridge’s case was the first time the specific permission has been sought.

But in a meeting this week, the party’s state executive decided to not only deny the Morphett MP’s request – but to impose a blanket policy that no such permission will ever be granted.

State Liberal president John Olsen told InDaily: “As a result of the change to the Electoral Act, the state executive of the Liberal Party has agreed on a policy that the term ‘independent Liberal’ will not be agreed to in future.”

McFetridge said he was “disappointed” but not surprised.

“I can live with that – it’s disappointing, but we’ll just keep campaigning,” he said.

“I didn’t expect them to [grant permission] because it’s just hard-nosed politics that people play… it doesn’t change my attitude, it doesn’t change my principles.

“I’ll still be letting people know that I’ve still got Liberal principles – I just can’t put it on the ballot paper.”

The Liberal Party has been dogged by former members running as independents, with the likes of Peter Lewis, Rory McEwen and Hamilton-Smith subsequently backing Labor governments.

But none of those ran as nominal “Independent Liberals”, with the most recent cases being Stan Evans in Davenport – who retained his party membership but was not the party’s endorsed candidate – and Mitch Williams in MacKillop.

Williams, who subsequently rejoined the party and became its deputy leader, told InDaily he disagreed with the state executive’s decision.

“I always found it quite curious why we would prevent somebody running as an Independent Liberal… I’ve always thought our electoral system works better if the public are properly informed,” he said.

“If somebody puts themselves up as an ‘Independent Liberal’ it gives the voter more information about their intent.

“I find that a bit funny in Duncan’s case, where everybody knows Duncan is a Liberal and where he fits on the political spectrum.”

But Attorney-General John Rau said the Liberal Party’s move was “broadly” consistent with the intent of the changes to the Electoral Act.

“If you accept that over time a political group or party establishes a brand, for better or worse, then if somebody in effect uses your brand in an attempt to gain an advantage for themselves – that’s a little bit cheeky,” he said.

Ironically, it was Rau’s own Labor Party whose actions prompted the latest changes, after a widely-condemned election day stunt wherein ALP How To Vote cards were handed out bearing the slogan “Put Your Family First”.

McFetridge’s fellow former Liberal Troy Bell said he had made no request to retain the party name, insisting: “I’ll be running as an independent.”

“I resigned from the party, though I still hold my beliefs, which are about personal liberties, lower taxes, small government and traditional values… but in terms of the election I’ll be running as an independent,” he said.

Former Liberal independent Bob Such never used the moniker in his political branding, according to his widow Lyn.

“He could never put ‘Liberal’ because he was not part of the Liberal Party… if you’re independent, you’re independent – that was his thinking,” she said.

Hamilton-Smith announced recently he would not contest the March election.

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