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Libs set for party-room standoff over key role


The State Liberals are set for more internal tension, with long-serving Legislative Councillor John Dawkins confirming his intent to stand for the vacant Upper House presidency – and not ruling out nominating for the position even without his party’s endorsement.

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Dawkins’ previous bid for the presidency, after the 2018 state election, was cruelled by a last-minute deal – understood to be brokered by Premier Steven Marshall – that saw Andrew McLachlan take the role for two years before handing over to Right-winger Terry Stephens.

McLachlan’s tenure was cut short when he won the Liberal nomination for a casual senate vacancy earlier this year, while Stephens is set to step down as part of the fallout from the recent country allowance claims scandal.

Several sources have told InDaily that Jing Lee, who did not return calls today, is the party’s preferred pick for the presidency – particularly after the Government failed to add any women to its ministry after the recent spate of resignations.

But Dawkins, who is retiring from parliament at the 2022 election, has confirmed he will challenge for the plum role in the party-room – and several insiders say they believe he is prepared to nominate in the Upper House even if he loses the party-room vote.

“I made it quite clear to my own group that I intend standing in the Legislative Council party-room, absolutely,” Dawkins told InDaily.

Asked whether he would nominate even if Jing Lee won the party-room endorsement, he said: “That’s something I’d think about it that happens.”

“I’m not thinking two steps ahead… I’m not there at this point [but] I’ve made it clear to my group, and others in my party, that I intend to stand.”

He noted he was “obviously very interested previously but that didn’t work out”.

Asked if he was aware that the party-room favoured his opponent, he said: “There’s some suggestions of that [but] that hasn’t been confirmed with me.”

“I was whip for 16 years, and we sorted things out in the party-room – so that’s what I intend to do,” he said.

“I’m standing.”

The tussle for the presiding role in the Upper House mimics a similar stand-off in the House of Assembly, where it was suggested hopeful Dan Cregan could seek Opposition and cross-bench endorsement if it was denied by his own party – although this outcome appears unlikely.

But contests in both houses will continue the unrest that has dogged the Government for some weeks, amid a series of damaging leaks and factional dissent over a recent Liberal Women’s event that prompted a public backlash.

Dawkins would need to convince Labor and three crossbenchers to back him – with the Opposition keeping its powder dry both privately and publicly.

Greens MLC Mark Parnell said his two-member party-room “haven’t considered our position yet”, but pointed out that the party did not necessarily adhere to the “old parties’” convention that the president should be the endorsed candidate of the government of the day.

However, independent John Darley endorsed Dawkins’ bid, telling InDaily: “There’s no question in my mind, on merit, that John Dawkins would stand up.”

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