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Labor's nightmare: Candidate coup as X marks the spot in ALP heartland

Politics

Several senior Labor figures will be feeling the heat over the long weekend, as Nick Xenophon plans to formalise around 10 new SA Best candidates, InDaily understands – giving the fledgling party a “mathematical” chance of forming majority government in its own right.

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High-profile suburban mayors Kris Hanna and Gary Johanson were unveiled on Monday as candidates in Gibson and Port Adelaide respectively, as first flagged by InDaily over the preceding months, with Whyalla councillor Tom Antonio confirmed yesterday amid controversy.

It’s now understood Xenophon will unveil a job lot of new candidates on the weekend, expected to be rolled out via his preferred media strategy – a “drop” to the Saturday Advertiser or Sunday Mail.

With other contenders in the pipeline, Xenophon could yet contest well over 30 lower house seats

InDaily has been told as many as 10 new candidates will join SA Best’s lower house campaign, in addition to the 16 already announced, which would give the party at least 24 potential seats at the March election – the number required to form government in the 47-seat parliament. Of course, that would entail winning in every seat SA Best contests – an outcome well beyond the bounds of possibility. But insiders say that, with a glut of other contenders in the pipeline, Xenophon could yet contest well over 30 lower house seats – a prospect that would terrify strategists in both major parties.

As Xenophon has publicly contended, it’s understood the pending announcements will have a strong focus on safe Labor seats.

InDaily understands frontbenchers including Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis and, as reported previously, Peter Malinauskas, could be in SA Best’s sights, with seats to be targeted including Taylor, Playford, West Torrens and Croydon. Thus far, the only Labor heartland seats SA Best has pursued have been Elizabeth and Giles – Labor’s only country seat. The party has also fielded a candidate in Transport Minister Stephen Mullighan’s marginal seat of Lee, although that was already considered vulnerable in a traditional Labor-Liberal contest.

Xenophon was typically coy when asked about his intentions today, telling InDaily repeatedly “I’m working on it” when asked whether he would be announcing up to 10 new candidates over the weekend and whether that would see him crack the significant 24-seat barrier.

It’s understood major party polling has already identified fertile ground for SA Best in Labor’s north-east heartland seats, with the likes of Taylor, Elizabeth and Playford vulnerable because of the traditionally low Liberal vote – which would see SA Best more easily run second on the primary vote and snare victory on Opposition preferences.

That would be a bitter pill for the likes of Labor hopefuls Jon Gee and Michael Brown.

Brown, a former state secretary and longtime parliamentary aspirant, was gifted preselection in Playford in the kerfuffle that saw former Health Minister Jack Snelling shift seats to Florey – a debacle that saw that seat’s incumbent Frances Bedford quit the ALP and run as an independent, with Snelling later retiring from politics altogether in any case.

Ironically, it’s believed Xenophon does not intend to run a candidate in Florey at all, leaving Bedford as the beneficiary of any anti-Labor backlash.

Gee, meanwhile, retreated from his former seat of Napier after last year’s redistribution reduced it to a nominal marginal called King, instead putting his hand up for Taylor, which was considered a far safer bet.

But all bets will be off after this weekend, with the magnitude of SA Best’s prospective electoral disruption to become clear. InDaily has been told at least two Opposition frontbenchers will also face nervous campaigns, with Liberal-held Adelaide and Unley also “in play” – although it’s unclear whether candidates have yet been endorsed in either.

They are currently held by child protection spokeswoman Rachel Sanderson and transport spokesman David Pisoni, respectively.

SA Best is considered a better chance of snaring nominally “safe” major party seats, rather than marginal seats where by definition both the Labor and Liberal vote is relatively high.

But with neither major party polling above 30 per cent in last month’s Newspoll, there are unlikely to be many seats in which an incumbent can garner more than 50 per cent of the primary vote – making several seats vulnerable to a notional second-placed SA Best candidate after preferences are distributed.

In a sign the major parties are significantly rattled, deputy Liberal leader Vickie Chapman this morning issued a media release headlined “No Ideas Nick”, demanding Xenophon “keeps his word and begins releasing his policies” on a range of issues.

“Nick Xenophon announced he was running for state parliament on 6 October, yet in the 16 weeks since then he has failed to release a single substantive policy,” Chapman said in the statement.

“Nick’s modus operandi has been to wait for the Liberals or Labor to release a policy, sniff the breeze, then jump on the back of what he thinks is popular and say he supports it too.

“Nick Xenophon can’t credibly claim he wants to hold the balance of power in the SA parliament without releasing a genuine policy platform for proper scrutiny.”

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