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Premature evacuation: Labor left red-faced by boundary re-draw

Politics

SA Labor is reeling from a spectacular own-goal, with powerbrokers contemplating re-doing a recent preselection and a former frontbencher finding himself mired in electoral limbo after an adverse boundary re-draw.

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The ALP rushed to formalise a spate of preselections after the August draft report of the Electoral Districts Boundaries Commission suggested a handful of Liberal seats would become vulnerable.

Frontbencher Tony Piccolo quit the shadow ministry and was confirmed as his party’s candidate to fight former Liberal high-flyer Stephan Knoll in Schubert, after the Gawler heartland of Piccolo’s Light electorate was shifted into Knoll’s seat, giving it a nominal – and nominally winnable – 5.4 per cent margin.

But Piccolo was left high and dry yesterday when the boundaries commission instead opted to move Gawler back into Light – pushing Knoll’s margin back to an extremely safe 14.7 per cent.

Adding to the mess, federal MP for Spence Nick Champion was widely tipped to run in Piccolo’s old seat of Light in a shock shift from Canberra – but it now appears likely Labor will be forced to let Piccolo return to his former seat.

Labor leader Peter Malinauskas told InDaily today Piccolo had always maintained he was shifting seats because his Gawler heartland had been moved.

“Tony Piccolo is an outstanding member of parliament and one of the best advocates any community could have,” he said.

“He’s always demonstrated his willingness to put his community and the party’s interest ahead of his own – he enjoys my support in whatever decisions he makes.”

However, despite Piccolo citing the need to campaign strongly in Schubert when he quit the frontbench, Malinauskas did not confirm whether he would be welcomed back to the shadow ministry.

“We’ve just done a reshuffle – that’s not something I’ve turned my mind to,” he said.

But asked whether Piccolo, who did not respond to inquiries, may have wrecked his political career, he said: “Hardly.”

“I don’t think people ever ruin their careers when they put their community’s interests ahead of their own,” he said.

“This only came out yesterday – we’re working through it all.”

Sources suggested Champion remained keen to make the shift to state politics, with the north-eastern suburbs seat of Newland – now the Liberals’ most marginal seat on 0.2 per cent – considered a possible avenue.

He told InDaily today by text message: “My main concern at the moment is entertaining a four-year-old!”

Labor also could have egg on its face over convincing former federal candidate for Boothby Nadia Clancy, who was expected to recontest that seat at the next federal poll, to instead run in Elder – which was on a razor thin 0.1 per cent margin in the draft redraw.

But that has now shifted to a more comfortable two per cent for Liberal incumbent Carolyn Power.

Malinauskas said: “The basis of our preselections is looking at the best candidates for their respective communities – the principal community in and around Elder has not changed.”

“We believe we’ve got the best candidate for Elder [and] we think she’ll do an outstanding job,” he said.

“My focus at the moment is doing the best job I can as Opposition Leader to show the sort of leadership South Australians expect during the course of a pandemic shutting the state down.”

Asked whether the party should have waited for the final boundaries before formalising several key preselections, he said: “The Labor Party in SA is one of the most stable, professional and united political parties in the country – few would dispute that.”

“That puts us in an incredibly strong position to work with each other in a way that’s in the best interests of our constituencies [and gives us] the ability to respond to changes are they arise.”

Overall the changes to the draft redraw favoured the Liberal Party, which would now likely win an election 24 seats to 23 if both parties garnered 50 per cent of the two-party vote.

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