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Campaign Diary: Labor candidate shafted by a union


In today’s diary, a prominent union angers a Labor candidate by endorsing and actively campaigning for his rival, the nurses change their mind on Nick Xenophon, and former PM Tony Abbott makes a low-profile mid-campaign trip to Adelaide.

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There’s power in a union

Labor stalwart Rik Morris, the purveyor of sage advice to successive premiers, has been a loyal trooper for the party over many years.

After being an adviser and bureaucrat, he has now been handed the difficult task of running for the party in Florey after another Labor veteran, Frances Bedford, quit the ALP in protest at Health Minister Jack Snelling being preselected for her seat.

After much brouhaha Snelling quit and Labor’s tattered Florey flag was handed to Morris, who has since been treading the streets of the north-eastern suburbs where he grew up.

Campaign Diary has discovered his task has been made a lot more difficult by members of a prominent union turning out in force as foot soldiers for Bedford, who now seems almost certain to win the seat as an independent.

The Australian Education Union (AEU), which insists that it isn’t aligned with any political party, has confirmed that its members are working for Bedford’s re-election, but it insists they are doing so “in their own time” and not at the direction of head office.

President Howard Spreadbury said the members were responding to Bedford’s record on supporting her local schools and her commitment to increasing funding for TAFE.

“The main stimulus for members involved in their own time to support her is (that) Frances has come out very strongly in recent months, particularly in support of TAFE in SA,” he said.

“Members have been very responsive to Frances’ position, particularly in relation to TAFE.”

Spreadbury’s insistence that members are acting off their own bat appears to be diluted somewhat by the fact that the man himself appears in a video posted on Bedford’s Facebook page, apparently endorsing her.

Bedford is in no doubt about the union’s official position, saying on Facebook that “I am so honoured to receive this endorsement from the largest organised Teachers group in South Australia”.

“Having my support for all Florey schools over the last 20 years recognised in this way means a lot to me. To hear that many of AEU members in Florey schools were behind this endorsement is particularly encouraging to me going into the final stage of the election campaign.”

The AEU’s official scorecard of the parties, reproduced below, gives Labor a big red tick in the TAFE box – in fact, every box.

Morris says he is disappointed that “the AEU is actively working against a candidate from the party that strongly supports and invests in public education”.

“I have friends who are teachers,” he said. “They are angry about their union’s position and they will be volunteering at polling booths for me on election day.”

Bedford has also angered some in Labor with an image she has uploaded to her Facebook page of the late Don Dunstan, pictured with Nick Xenophon who is endorsing her in Florey (see above).

The argument goes that Dunstan would never support someone who has turned their back on the party.

InDaily is seeking comment from Bedford.

Mr Abbott comes to Adelaide

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott was in Adelaide this week, in a trip which attracted little publicity.

Diary’s mole bumped into him on Waymouth Street yesterday, but he wasn’t on the media’s radar and didn’t appear with state Liberal leader Steven Marshall.

While he did some fundraising work for the party, he was invited to Adelaide by federal MP for Boothby, Nicolle Flint, to address a forum of church leaders.

She told InDaily that the purpose was to talk with the group about a review being chaired by former federal minister Philip Ruddock into whether Australian laws provide sufficient protection for religious freedom.

She said it was well-attended event on an important issue.

“For me, it’s a freedom of speech issue – freedom of belief, freedom of religion,” Flint said.

It was important, she said, to ensure that people with Christian values and beliefs were protected from discrimination in the same way as many other groups.

Marshall’s office told us that Abbott was also involved in some fundraising activities to support the local campaign and the re-election of federal MPs.

Abbott spoke at a Young Liberal event, appearing on Facebook with a Coopers beer in hand and alongside state Liberal office-holder and city councillor Alex Antic, Flint and Young Liberal president Jocelyn Sutcliffe.

The approach to media, at least, for Abbott’s trip is in contrast with the visit last week of another Liberal ex-PM, John Howard, who was available for a photo opportunity with Marshall and local candidate for Lee Stephen Rypp.

As Prime Minister, Abbott was a prominent contributor to the Liberals’ ill-fated 2014 campaign, in which he introduced Marshall at the official launch.

Later that year, Labor used Abbott as an anti-Liberal weapon in its successful campaign in the Fisher by-election which shored up its numbers in Parliament. Labor’s Nat Cook was helped immeasurably by then-federal defence minister David Johnston’s now-infamous declaration that he wouldn’t trust ASC to build a canoe.

Tony Abbott with local Liberals Alex Antic (left), Nicolle Flint and Jocelyn Sutcliffe. Photo: Facebook

Do bookies know anything about politics?

The Liberals will certainly be hoping they don’t. As will Nick Xenophon.

TAB says the odds of SA Best winning the March 17 election have “drifted” from $3.25 to $8.50 over the past week.

Labor is now a $1.80 chance to win with TAB, while the Liberals are at $2.25.

Nurses happier with Xenophon

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation has “warmly welcomed” SA Best’s belated response to its health policy position paper.

The nurses’ union has been running an advertising campaign against the Xenophon party, arguing its health policy is thin.

However, union boss Elizabeth Dabars says SA Best has now given “clear commitments to each element of our policy statement and we are also pleased at their interest in working with us in delivering on each of those”.

Better late than never.

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