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State MP lashes 'undemocratic' party processes, boundary redraws

Politics

One of state parliament’s four crossbenchers has railed against the mandated four-yearly redistribution of electoral boundaries, saying a “tiny sliver” of a single suburb is all that’s left of the seat she first won more than 20 years ago.

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Former Labor MP Frances Bedford – who quit the party before reclaiming her northern Adelaide seat of Florey as an independent – says she’s yet to decide which seat to contest at the 2022 election, or even whether she’ll run at all.

That’s a shift from her long-held position that she will run again, although she concedes her preferred option remains to stand for re-election.

“I still want to run, but we need to think about every option,” she told InDaily.

“The first thing is to decide if I’m running… the next thing is to decide where I’ll run.”

The recent final report of the Electoral Districts Boundaries Commission shifted almost 12,000 voters from neighbouring Playford into Bedford’s seat, while sending various parts of her electorate into other districts, including Enfield, Torrens, Wright and Newland.

The latter now includes the key suburb of Modbury, for whose hospital Bedford has long advocated, prompting speculation she could instead opt to contest the marginal Liberal-held seat against incumbent Richard Harvey.

“It’s an option [but] it’s going to be a lot of work to win as an independent in a marginal seat in Newland,” she said.

“I’ve got to go find the money [to campaign] and to work out exactly what we want to achieve.”

She suggested the role of independents was less crucial if they didn’t wield the balance of power, saying her push for a “progressive agenda” has frequently been thwarted in the current parliament.

“The issues I think are important, they go nowhere – and that’s a problem… you can’t beat your head against a wall forever,” she said.

“Maybe I’ll get more cachet with people if I wasn’t in parliament.”

She cited a recent push for a lower house COVID Committee “to examine what’s worked and what hasn’t”, which was shot down by the Marshall Government as the recent Parafield cluster wound down.

Bedford’s decision to quit Labor was prompted in the first place by a boundary redraw, with the previous redistribution spurring then-Health Minister Jack Snelling to leave Playford and challenge her for preselection in Florey, claiming it now contained a significant proportion of his former electors.

This allowed Snelling’s Right faction colleague Michael Brown to enter parliament in Playford – but backfired when Bedford fought on as an independent, after which Snelling quit parliament altogether.

Bedford says the regular redraws are problematic for democratic representation.

“A tiny sliver of Para Vista is all that’s left of my original 1997 seat,” she said.

“It’s an issue because I represented those people for 20 years – they know me and trust me [and it] gets us back into the conundrum, are you voting for a party or a person?”

She said she was going to “look at the boundary stuff” further, saying: “The whole thing only works if everyone votes the same way twice.”

“What are we trying to do? Are we trying to manufacture results? Or should political parties go and do some work?”

She was also critical of both major parties’ candidate selection processes, saying “I don’t think the candidate selection process in any party necessarily selects the best candidate”.

“If you have to be in a faction and have to basically agree to do everything you’re told, if that’s how you get in and that’s how you push ‘start’… you won’t find people who are prepared to have opinions and rock the boat,” she said.

“Both major parties should have a look at how they preselect [because] it should be a contest of ideas.

“I understand why we have parties, but I want to have a view… I don’t care if I lose in a democratic fight [but] at the moment we don’t have that.”

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