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Liberal leaders asked to wait for Waite

Politics

Liberal members in Sam Duluk’s seat of Waite have petitioned their party’s executive to delay a preselection ballot until the exiled MP’s court proceedings are resolved, InDaily understands.

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However, it’s understood key moderates are angling to move forward with confirming the party’s MP in the safe inner-southern seat – which could prompt the incumbent to run as an independent.

The Liberal Party has already confirmed the preselection of all its sitting MPs except retiring members Stephan Knoll and Peter Treloar, whose seats are among four to be decided by a preselection ballot next month.

Some party insiders expected Waite to be among the electorates thrown open for nominations, with Duluk currently exiled on the cross-benches as he awaits the resolution of a charge of basic assault against SA Best MLC Connie Bonaros.

The charge stems from an incident at a Christmas function held in a corridor of parliament house late in 2019.

But several sources have told InDaily members of the Waite sub-branch delivered a petition late last year – signed by as many as half the sub-branch’s members – to Liberal state president Legh Davis, demanding that the Waite preselection be held off until Duluk’s position is clearer.

InDaily has been told that at a state executive meeting on Monday night, a leading moderate moved that the seat be thrown open for preselection nominees, a move that would preclude Duluk seeking the party’s re-endorsement, as he voluntarily relinquished his membership pending his court matters.

Several of his parliamentary colleagues have told InDaily they believe he will run for re-election in Waite regardless of whether or not he is the endorsed Liberal candidate.

However, the situation is further complicated because Premier Steven Marshall, who is likely to have a vote in party preselections as a member of state executive, said last February that Duluk was not welcome back in the party-room, describing his position as “untenable”.

Asked today to confirm the sub-branch petition had been delivered to the state executive, Marshall said: “I can’t confirm that because I haven’t attended state executive recently and it hasn’t been brought to my attention, but… state executive is the body which would determine the timetable for preselections.”

Asked whether he would back the incumbent if he was eligible to seek preselection, Marshall did not answer directly, saying there were “a range of issues” involved.

“I’m not sure if I would have a vote in that one – it really depends on the size of the State Electorate Committee as to whether or not I would get a vote,” he said.

Davis did not respond to numerous inquiries, while state director Sascha Meldrum told InDaily: “I don’t comment on internal party matters.”

Prior to his exile, Duluk was a key member of the Liberal Right faction, which was recently sidelined by the moderate faction to which Marshall belongs.

Marshall’s chief media adviser, fellow moderate Ashton Hurn, is among three candidates seeking preselection in Knoll’s seat of Schubert, but the Premier stopped short of confirming he would vote for her today.

“I won’t be making public statements,” he said.

“I think what is super exciting is we’re getting quality candidates putting their hand up wanting to make a contribution to SA… I think Ashton Hurn would certainly be a great member of parliament – but we’ve got to look at all candidates coming forward.”

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