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Shunned Lib's pre-emptive strike as colleagues seek his expulsion

Politics

Controversially-elected Upper House president John Dawkins has removed himself from the Liberal party-room but says he will still fight to retain his membership of the party.

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The Liberal party-room met early this afternoon to formalise his expulsion from the parliamentary party, with a recommendation now set to go to state executive that he be stripped of his party membership altogether.

It follows bizarre scenes in parliament yesterday after Dawkins defied his party to nominate for the President’s role against the endorsed Liberal candidate Jing Lee.

With Labor and some crossbench backing, he twice managed to tie the Legislative Council vote, before prevailing when his name was drawn first from a box in a so-called ‘Hat Draw’.

Liberal insiders have today expressed exasperation that the Government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic is being sidelined by disunity and internal jockeying.

In a statement today, Dawkins declared he had received correspondence from the Liberal whips informing him of a motion to expel him from the parliamentary party for defying its chosen nominee.

He said that “having been elected as President of the Legislative Council, it was my intention not to attend meetings of the Joint Party Room or the Liberal Legislative Council Party Room”.

Asked by InDaily whether he intended to try and retain his party membership, he responded: “Yes.”

Liberal Party state director Sascha Meldrum told InDaily she would not comment on internal party matters.

But long-time colleague Rob Lucas, who has served in the Legislative Council alongside Dawkins since the latter’s election in 1997, said his decision not to attend meetings was “a side issue”.

“The issue is the joint party room is going to… expel him,” he said before the meeting, which returned a unanimous resolution.

“He will no longer be a member of the Liberal Parliamentary party [so] it won’t be his choice if he’s expelled from the party-room – he won’t be entitled to attend.”

He said the motion to remove Dawkins had been “unopposed” and there was a “very, very angry and strong view from all of his parliamentary colleagues [that] he be expelled from the party”.

“I’ll be supporting it [and] we would convey that to the Liberal party state executive and it would be my expectation that the state executive would follow that through,” he said.

Asked whether the fallout would create ongoing issues in the Legislative Council, Lucas said: “The position of president of the Legislative Council merits respect, and I and the Government members will accord it the respect the position of president deserves.”

In his statement, Dawkins said it was “a tremendous honour to be elected as President of the Legislative Council”.

“My significant decision to contest the Presidency was guided by my unyielding determination to do all I can to uphold the integrity of the SA Parliament… I have always sought to uphold our Parliament’s standing as a democratic institution and the cornerstone of accountable, transparent government in our state,” he said.

“These are core Liberal values and as precedent provides, yesterday I exercised the long-enshrined right of Liberal MPs to act according to their individual principles, even if independent of the party’s position of the day.”

He congratulated Lee “on her candidacy”, acknowledging her “ongoing service to the parliament”.

“I am pleased my candidacy prompted timely discussion amongst Liberal MLCs about preserving the unique functions of the Legislative Council and confirmed strong support for important, overdue Upper House reforms to be given greater priority,” he said.

“As President I look forward to working effectively with my parliamentary colleagues on behalf on the people of SA for the remainder of this, my final term as a Legislative Councillor.”

The Upper House result followed similarly bizarre scenes in the Lower House yesterday, when first-term Liberal moderate Josh Teague was elected Speaker in a second ballot after an initial vote similarly ended with a tie with challenger Frances Bedford – despite the Government commanding a majority in the House of Assembly.

Both results have proved embarrassing for the Marshall Government, which becomes the first SA administration since 1979 to not get its choice of presiding member rubber-stamped by parliament.

The vacancies followed from the recent scandal about Country Members Allowances, which saw three ministers, Government whip Adrian Pederick and former Upper House president Terry Stephens stand down.

Former Speaker Vincent Tarzia vacated the chair when he was elevated to the ministry in the ensuing reshuffle.

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