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Faction moves in on Waite as Duluk verdict delayed

Politics

Liberal factional tensions continue to rise amid a move to marginalise Right-backed party-room exile Sam Duluk in his seat of Waite – with a prospective challenger establishing a new branch in the electorate, backed by the party’s state executive.

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Duluk was due to find out today whether a court had found him guilty of basic assault, after his trial last month which heard evidence of him touching a fellow MP, SA Best’s Connie Bonaros, on the bottom during a boozy parliament house-held Christmas party in 2019.

But the decision of Magistrate Jonathan Wells has been delayed until late next month – a move that will cause consternation in Liberal headquarters, which had already delayed its candidate preselection in the seat of Waite at the request of the conservative-dominated local state electorate committee.

The SA Liberal state executive has now further antagonised the party’s Right faction by green-lighting the establishment of a new moderate-run branch within the seat of Waite – convened by prospective preselection challenger and prominent moderate Cara Miller.

Miller, a former owner of a radiology practice, is understood to be backed by former Liberal minister Wayne Matthew, who left politics in 2006 but launched a failed return bid by seeking preselection in Davenport ahead of the 2018 election.

Matthew did not respond to inquiries today.

An email from the state Liberal secretariat to Waite members, sent “on behalf of Ms Cara Miller” contained information about a new branch to be established within Waite, as well as within the federal seat of Boothby, which covers similar territory.

“Dear fellow Waite SEC and branch members ,” an attached letter reads.

“On the 28th of June the state executive accepted my proposal to create a new branch in the Waite SEC and Boothby FEC under our constitution… I am thrilled to inform you that the Brownhill Creek Branch will host its inaugural meeting on Sunday July 25.”

Miller, who did not respond to inquiries today, wrote that the name had been adopted “around the connections that run through our electorate and the beautiful Brownhill Creek that ties the hills to the ‘flat’”.

“That name will also stay relevant through the cycle of electoral boundary changes that may opt suburbs in and out of the electorate over time,” she wrote.

However, party sources say the choice of suburb is peculiar as there are no Liberal Party members living there.

Miller stated the new Brownhill Creek branch “will actively ‘reboot’ our grassroots activities in Waite”.

“As we are faced with both State and Federal elections within months of each other, it is crucial that we work together for our party,” she said.

The missive sought expressions of interest, however the location of the first meeting would not be divulged until members had signed up.

“Due to COVID, numbers are limited and therefore preference is given to new Brownhill Creek members first,” an addendum reads.

“Confirmation of RSVP acceptance will be required to attend, along with location information.”

Party sources told InDaily the move was “mischief-making”, with many suggesting it was a bid to raise Miller’s profile in the seat for a potential preselection challenge.

However, it’s understood a rearguard action is already in motion, with prominent Right-wingers – including senator Alex Antic and Nicolle Flint staffer and Adelaide City councillor Alexander Hyde – among those who have already signed on with the new branch.

Insiders have told InDaily Miller did not nominate for any positions at the recent Waite AGM in Blackwood, but that she did make an unsuccessful bid to be the seat’s membership officer at the previous year’s meeting.

“There were a whole stack of people at the meeting and they can’t get a position in Waite so they want to step up their own branch,” one source said.

“This is more Cara Miller trying to position herself in case Sam doesn’t come out as the prospective Liberal candidate for Waite.”

InDaily has been told that the local SEC had not been otherwise contacted about the new branch by head office.

Duluk did not comment today, while Waite SEC president Malcolm Post referred InDaily to Liberal state director Sascha Meldrum “as a member of state executive”.

She also did not respond to inquiries.

The Liberal executive has been in turmoil in recent weeks over its handling of an influx of new members, signed up from a raft of evangelical Christian communities by prominent Right-wingers.

The delay in Duluk’s verdict could embolden opponents in the moderate-dominated state executive to push ahead with the Waite preselection, with several contenders waiting in the wings to nominate – but sources say such a move would likely provoke outright hostilities ahead of next month’s state party AGM.

One insider said “a number of members are actively talking about leaving the party if [Duluk] is not the next Liberal candidate for Waite”.

However, the glut of conservative-leaning new members is expected to tip the balance of power on the state executive after the party AGM, giving Right-wingers a greater say in how and when the preselection is conducted.

The new branch is expected to be debated at this weekend’s Boothby FEC AGM, however the seat is in a state of flux with incumbent Nicolle Flint leaving federal parliament, to be replaced by candidate Rachel Swift.

Boothby’s president, prominent religious leader John Hepworth, told InDaily he would be stepping down at the meeting after the 79-year-old was recently diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease.

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