Flagging polls and a decision by the Greens to preference against Xenophon in his prospective seat of Hartley – first revealed by InDaily last month – have raised serious doubts about the SA Best leader’s chances of securing the north-eastern suburbs seat.
If his party still picked up enough Lower House seats to hold the balance of power in a hung parliament, Xenophon’s absence could prove disastrous, given the broad political backgrounds of his 35 fellow candidates.
But SA Best is still expected to snare at least two Upper House seats – and possibly up to four – leaving open the possibility that one of his Legislative Councillors could step aside to create a casual vacancy for their leader to enter parliament.
But Xenophon himself said he wouldn’t countenance such a move today, insisting: “I wouldn’t accept that – that is not acceptable to me under any circumstances.”
If the AHA and Labor and Liberals and Greens think they’re going to get rid of me by preference deals and negative campaigns, they’ve got another thing coming
However, he insisted he would remain intimately involved in running the party if he failed to win his seat – including in any negotiations with the major parties if SA Best holds the balance of power.
“I think you’ll find if I don’t get across the line, I’ll leave it up to those who are elected to invite me to be part of those discussions,” he told InDaily.
“[But] I’d think, given my relationships, they would want me in on those discussions.”
It appears there has been no plan put in place to deal with the prospect of SA Best holding the key crossbench seats without Xenophon himself.
While the leader emphatically rejected seeking or accepting an Upper House vacancy, some of his candidates wouldn’t rule out such a move today.
Former Today Tonight reporter Frank Pangallo – lately Xenophon’s media adviser and number two on the Legislative Council ticket – said he was “not even going to entertain that”.
“He’ll win Hartley [so] let’s wait and see what happens on the evening of [March] the 17th,” he said.
“I’m not going to answer that.”
Asked if that meant he was not ruling out the possibility, Pangallo responded: “I’m not ruling it in.”
He suggested SA Best had no plans in place for the possibility of Xenophon failing in Hartley, saying “we’ll discuss that on the morning of the 18th”.
“Whatever happens on the 17th, we’ll be discussing on the 18th [but] we’re working to the fact that Nick will win Hartley… I’m not even going to go down that track, it’s not in my thoughts,” he said.
Industrial workplace safety advocate Andrea Madeley, who is fourth on the SA Best ticket, said she “hadn’t even thought about” giving up her seat if she won and Xenophon didn’t.
“I don’t think I should comment because it’s not something we’ve discussed,” she said.
“I don’t even think he’d ask me, to be honest… if that happens it would be up to Nick and I to discuss, wouldn’t it?
“It hasn’t crossed my mind and has not been mentioned or talked about in any way [so] I’d hate to pre-empt anything.”
Xenophon has been a longtime political advocate for Madeley after the death of her son Daniel in a 2004 workplace accident.
“I admire the man very much, and have an enormous amount of respect for him, and would always be prepared to talk to him about anything to do with his future with SA Best,” she said.
“If and when the situation arises, we’d discuss it I suppose.
“We’re not focussed on those details – we’re working on the ground-level to bring about the best campaign possible, countering a lot of negative election campaigning by the two major parties [and] I have every intention of getting through and walking through the doors of North Terrace with as many of my colleagues as possible.”
Port Augusta mayor Sam Johnson, a high-profile recruit to third place on the Legislative Council ticket, said he wouldn’t consider vacating the seat if he wins it.
“No, not at all [because] I honestly believe there’s no fear of Nick not winning Hartley,” he said.
He said SA Best had conducted polling “across a statewide basis and in all the seats we’re contesting leading into the election [and] we’re quite comfortable Nick will win Hartley”.
“I’m very confident that Nick will win the seat,” he said.
Lead Upper House candidate and SA Best campaign director Connie Bonaros said she would get back to InDaily with a response, but instead it was Xenophon that responded, “unequivocally” insisting “there absolutely is no Plan B for me to do anything other than to win Hartley”.
“I don’t have a Plan B – I won’t have a Plan B,” he said.
Of the suggestion that one of his Upper House colleagues could create a casual vacancy for him, he said: “I’m not countenancing anyone doing anything [like] that… I’ve made it very clear in the most unequivocal terms – that’s not happening.”
“I have to win Hartley, and if I don’t win Hartley I’ll continue to be involved – but not as an elected representative.”
There appears to be no provision in the SA Best constitution that the party leader must be a member of parliament and Xenophon was unclear as to whether or not he could still lead the party if he failed to win his seat.
“The party will have leadership from within the parliament whether I’m there or not and I’ll be able to provide strong support and mentoring for whoever is,” he said.
“I’ll be there helping them, even if I’m not in parliament itself… I’ll be there working my guts out to support them.
“The interests of the party will be served by me giving support to my colleagues who are elected, whatever happens.”
Xenophon said “the function of genuine leadership is to create more leaders, not more followers”, adding: “I expect we’ll see a number of leaders in SA Best.”
“I think the situation would be that I’d still be there giving strong support, but obviously there would be a parliamentary leader of the party,” he said.
“But it won’t be me.”
However, he insisted, “if I don’t make it I’m still going to be around”.
“I’m not going anywhere – if the AHA [Australian Hotels Association] and Labor and Liberal parties – and Greens, for that matter – think they’re going to get rid of me by preference deals and negative campaigns, they’ve got another thing coming,” he said.
“I’d still be there as a mentor, supporting and giving that advice and guidance [to my MPs], because of my parliamentary experience… I’ll be an advocate, mentor, friend and providing what I hope will be good advice to them to help with direction and strategy.”
Xenophon conceded: “I expect it’s going to be tough for me in Hartley.”
“There’s been a massive campaign fuelled by the Hotels’ Association,” he said.
“I want to win Hartley [but] that’s not the only way I can have an impact and bring about change… if I don’t, I’m still fighting for the people of Hartley and the people of SA.
“I’ll continue to be a tireless advocate for the community and the state.”
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