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Morry bails on law firm role as Libs brace for new president

Politics

Prominent Adelaide lawyer Morry Bailes has stepped aside as managing partner of leading general practice firm Tindall Gask Bentley, with Liberal insiders expecting him to nominate to replace John Olsen as state party president later this year.

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Bailes confirmed to InDaily he was standing down at the end of the month “from equity partnership and as managing partner of the firm”, saying the move was “completely my decision”.

He will remain on a contract with TGB to provide support to his replacement, current partner Gary Allison.

“I started at the firm in 1988 [and] I’ve been a partner for 25 years, and managing partner for 18 years,” Bailes said.

“It’s time for someone else to take the job and shape the future… it’s a perfect opportunity to move on to other things.”

And it’s those other things that are causing consternation in Liberal ranks, with Bailes strongly expected to contest for the state party presidency, with former Premier John Olsen’s tenure ending at this year’s AGM.

That’s expected to be held in August, given easing coronavirus restrictions.

Bailes, who writes a regular legal affairs column in InDaily, is currently serving his second stint as a party vice-president, having secured the largest vote at last year’s AGM, when the Conservative Right took the ascendancy.

However, he was coy about the presidency, saying: “I don’t want to comment on that.”

“We’ve got an AGM coming up and whatever is to happen in relation to the presidency will be determined there,” he said.

“I don’t want to comment – it’s a party matter.”

However, he remained open to political aspirations, having contested a recent senate casual vacancy, which he lost to then-Legislative Council president Andrew McLachlan and previously showing interest in moderate powerbroker Christopher Pyne’s former seat of Sturt, which went to Steven Marshall’s former chief of staff James Stevens.

Bailes said he was open to “whatever else may come up”.

“I haven’t announced [my departure] publicly yet [so] there may be other positions that are offered… in terms of politics, having contested a senate vacancy it’s obvious I’ve expressed interest.”

He was also touted as a contender for preselection in the state seat of Waite, whose incumbent Sam Duluk is facing court charged with basic assault.

Sources had suggested he would be a frontrunner to replace Vickie Chapman as Attorney-General if he entered state parliament, however he rejected that move altogether.

“It has an incumbent member – I’m not going to contest the seat of Waite,” he said.

“You’d have seen from my previous nomination that I was interested in the senate – I was interested in the federal parliament – so no, I won’t be contesting in that area [state politics]… in terms of politics more broadly, my attitude to this is public life is something I’d never say no to – so, watch and wait.”

The 54-year-old former President of the Law Council of Australia, who was made a member of the Order of Australia in this month’s Queen’s Birthday Honours list, said he was “a huge believer in SA” and “having seen law being made in the federal parliament, that’s what has really attracted me in my politics ideal”.

McLachlan and leading SA moderate frontbencher Simon Birmingham are expected to lead the SA party’s next senate ticket as incumbents.

However, the third spot on the ticket could also be hotly contested, given the success of right-winger Alex Antic – a former TGB colleague – in snaring a seat at the last election.

Party insiders, however, concede running a senate ticket comprised of three middle-aged men would be a hard sell for a party trying to prove its commitment to equal opportunity, while the left could yet run an opponent against Bailes if he seeks the presidency in August.

One source said that would depend on whether “he gives a commitment not to seek preselection”.

“We need our next president focused on re-electing two governments [state and federal], not their personal advancement,” they said.

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