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‘An absolute abuse of power’: Fight ramps up over Lib insurgence

Politics

A standoff between Sam Duluk loyalists and SA Liberal headquarters has escalated, with leaked emails revealing the party president opted to forge ahead with the formation of a new moderate-dominated branch despite overwhelming opposition from the Right faction.

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InDaily last month revealed the inaugural meeting of a new Brownhill Creek branch of the Liberal Party was held at party HQ, and chaired by president Legh Davis, who copped rancour from one attendee over his handling of the meeting.

Prominent moderates, including former Liberal minister Wayne Matthew, were elected to key roles in the new branch which is contained entirely within the southern suburbs electorate of Waite, held by party exile Sam Duluk.

Duluk was last week acquitted of basic assault relating to his behaviour at a Parliament House Christmas function in December 2019.

But he is yet to be readmitted to the Liberal party-room, with Premier Steven Marshall pressing for a separate private investigation into his behaviour to be re-instigated instead.

Party insiders believe the new branch in Waite is a move by the moderate faction to shore up support for a move against Duluk, with emails obtained by InDaily revealing that strong opposition from the president of the seat’s state electorate conference was ignored by party office.

An email sent to Davis before the meeting from SEC president Malcolm Post suggested legal advice had been sought about the proposed new branch, which he claimed was unconstitutional.

“My legal advice is that State Executive cannot give prior approval to the formation of a branch and can only give subsequent approval after the Inaugural AGM of the proposed new branch,” he wrote.

“I have been further advised that if State Executive rescinds the first approval motion, it cannot then give a second and subsequent approval to bring its new motion into line with the Constitution.

“This would be an absolute abuse of State Executive’s power.”

Post urges Davis “to consider your position when deciding whether to make the new Branch ‘operational’ after its AGM”.

“To approve a new branch would cause further concern amongst the members [in Waite] and would re-kindle the ‘down the hill’ and ‘up the hill’ divide,” he said.

“It would also create the impression that State Executive was prepared to interfere in SEC matters without taking the SEC’s views into consideration… I urge you to decline the proposal for a new Branch in the Waite SEC, without the consent of the majority of the SEC members, when you next consider the matter.”

However, in response Davis noted that the majority consent of the local party was not a consideration.

“As to your statement that the majority of the SEC members do not consent to a new Branch, under the Constitution such consent is not required,” he said.

He said State Executive would only consider approving the new branch to become operational after its AGM was held, and as such “when approval is given by the State Executive to the formation of the Brownhill Creek Branch there would be no breach of the Division’s Constitution”.

It’s understood that approval is yet to be given as the state executive has not met since the new branch’s inaugural meeting.

Critically though, the next meeting of the state executive could take a very different tack, given the Right faction will be looking to bolster its numbers on the party’s governing panel at this weekend’s state AGM.

Davis himself is being challenged by party member Glenn Bain, although insiders believe the incumbent will retain enough support to remain in the role.

In his correspondence, Post notes that Davis attended the recent Waite AGM “and spoke passionately about the need for unity in the party in the lead up to the State and Federal Elections”.

He added that Brownhill Creek branch founder and former party vice-president Cara Miller “was also present, but unfortunately did not take the opportunity to raise the proposed Branch… to gauge the SEC’s reaction”.

The Waite electorate is an ongoing problem for the Liberal Party, which has been forced to stall on endorsing a candidate in the seat for the March state election pending Duluk’s legal issues.

However, after his acquittal last week, Marshall said in a statement that “now that the court case has concluded, we would expect the Parliamentary Investigation to continue”.

“Regarding the question of if Mr Duluk will come back into the Liberal Party – that is one for the Liberal Party to make but I would assume the party would also await the outcome of the parliamentary investigation before making a decision,” Marshall said at the time.

The decision as to whether to recommence the stalled investigation rests with Speaker Josh Teague, who told InDaily today he was still “considering all of the circumstances as we find them now”.

“That includes having obtained a copy of the reasons for judgment [from the Magistrates Court], which are quite extensive and make several findings of fact in relation to the circumstances of the event that are of relevant assistance to me,” he said.

Teague is expected to make a decision in coming days, although Greens MLC Tammy Franks – who attended the Christmas drinks event – says the process is taking too long.

Having previously called for the inquiry to be restarted, she today wrote to Teague – along with other MPs, including the Premier and Opposition Leader – saying: “I find the glacial pace of progress on this far from satisfactory.”

“Dare I say, still waiting for a response. Will one be forthcoming?” she wrote.

Duluk has long indicated he intends to run again in Waite with or without party endorsement, with many party members in the electorate indicating they would back him as an independent.

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