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Greens warn Labor: “We won’t work with Koutsantonis”


The Greens have warned the ALP they will not work with Tom Koutsantonis as Labor leader if the party elects the former Treasurer to helm it in Opposition.

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Labor is not expected to rush to decide a replacement for ousted Premier Jay Weatherill, with a caucus meeting unlikely to be scheduled until results in seats such as Mawson and Adelaide are finalised – which could be as late as next week.

Former health minister and Right faction convenor Peter Malinauskas is very much the frontrunner in Labor’s leadership stakes, with the most likely outcome a peace-keeping ticket with factional rival Susan Close.

Current deputy John Rau – once mooted as a replacement for Mike Rann– has not ruled out throwing his hat in the ring, but there appears to be little appetite for him as leader, with one senior source suggesting he expected the former attorney-general was more likely to retire from parliament altogether.

Rau wouldn’t rule out either option today, telling InDaily: “I haven’t thought about anything.”

“What I intend to do is have a chat to a few of my colleagues, see what they’re thinking about things and form a view from there [but] I don’t have any particular plan at this point in time – in either those directions,” he said.

“My intention would be to do the best thing for the organisation, whatever that might be.”

However, as InDaily revealed yesterday, Koutsantonis is considered the Right’s Plan B if Malinauskas spurns the leadership, with the outspoken MP already underlining his brash style by making his presence felt on television interviews and social media since the election defeat.

But one of those social media forays has rankled with the Greens, after Koutsantonis referred to MLC Tammy Franks – who is expected to be re-elected to the Upper House – as a “long time friend” of new Liberal Premier Steven Marshall.

Franks had publicly spoken out late last year about repeated innuendo raised in parliament that she and Marshall were having an affair – denied by both of them – which she said was part of a concerted Labor-driven “smear” campaign.

Whoever the Leader of the Opposition is, they need to work with the crossbench – and that person is not Tom Koutsantonis

InDaily is not suggesting Koutsantonis was making such an innuendo in his tweet. He did not return calls today.

However, the Greens MLC responded in no uncertain terms to Koutsantonis’s tweet on the night.

Today, she went further, telling InDaily: “If Tom Koutsantonis is leader, he won’t be able to work with the crossbench.”

The Greens are fuming that having agreed to preference Labor in 35 of the 47 Lower House seats (the rest were open tickets, other than in Enfield where the party took aim at deputy premier John Rau), a senior ALP figure publicly levelled a personal attack once the election result was known.

They were also underwhelmed that Koutsantonis did not appear to know their position on the vexed question of shop trading hours, with the former Treasurer privately inquiring where they stood on the issue ahead of a Monday radio interview.

“He has no idea what our position is,” Franks said.

“We were one of the first to sign the pledge [a commitment to oppose deregulation that was spruiked during the campaign by the shop traders’ union, from which Koutsantonis hails].”

Tammy Franks watches results come in on election night – she is likely to be returned to the Upper House. Photo: Morgan Sette / AAP

The new Upper House is likely to be finely balanced, with both major parties boasting eight Legislative Councillors apiece, and six crossbenchers – two from SA Best, their former party colleague John Darley, Dennis Hood as the lone Australian Conservative and two Greens.

Franks said that rather elect Koutsantonis leader, Labor should “pull him into line”.

“My perspective is whoever the Leader of the Opposition is, they need to work with the crossbench – and that person is not Tom Koutsantonis,” she said.

“This is not the trait of a leader, going on the attack with a party that preferenced them… when the leadership question was in play.

“To me, that’s not a Leader of the Opposition, a leader who should work with the crossbench to bring down a conservative government… they would do wisely to look at someone who can work with the crossbench rather than attack their potential allies.”

Koutsantonis is expected to come into calculations only if Malinauskas decides not to accept the leadership, either for personal and political reasons. He had also been mooted as an apt ‘attack-dog’ style deputy should Malinauskas get the nod.

But a senior source told InDaily: “I think what you’ll see emerge is a Malinauskas/Close ticket… that’s where I think it’s heading.”

Left-faction insiders are confident Close won’t be shut out of deliberations by the Right, and a Right-wing insider acknowledged “if the Left wants it I can’t see us trying to roll them”.

“There’s a reason we were there for 16 years, and one of them was the leader didn’t have all the troubles of the factional instability federally and interstate,” said an insider.

“I’d be very surprised if [the factions] are about to go to war with one another… the reality is we’re not that far off victory and the Libs have shown a distinct propensity in government to blow themselves apart. They don’t seem to have a mechanism to manage their internals… maybe it’s changed [but] I think that will in due course come to be their downfall.”

The Liberal factions are very much in détente in the aftermath of their breakthrough election win, with the new party-room to be a finely balanced affair. Much could hinge on whether moderates Rachel Sanderson or Josh Teague lose Adelaide or Heysen respectively, as counting continues in tight seats.

But Liberal insiders are adamant the factions have agreed to “peace in our time”, with one insisting there is “broad recognition not to repeat the failures of the Brown-Olsen era”.

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