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Is the 'new' Liberal Right a force, or a fart in a bottle?


The recent divisive round of Liberal preselections was no failure, argues former MP Mark Brindal – who explains why party hard-heads are too “savvy” to countenance an assault on Steven Marshall’s leadership.

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“Sometime Liberal ministerial staffer” Robert Campbell’s contributions to InDaily combine Wilbur Smith’s raciness with the titillation of Joan Collins.

As an ex-Liberal staffer – a throat so deep that InDaily dare not name him – a whiff of James Bond is injected.

However, is Campbell providing real insight or is he a snake oil salesman peddling potions? His assertions cannot remain unchallenged.

Previously Campbell urged Liberal leader Steven Marshall to exert his authority in preselections. Now, however, he claims that by doing just that, Marshall has “decimated his political authority”.

His justification for this suggests that, because Marshall did not get his own way with everything, he’s failed. In reality, Marshall won more than he lost.

Marshall supported all his sitting members. With the exception of Duncan McFetridge – narrowly ousted in Morphett by Holdfast mayor Stephen Patterson – all have been endorsed.

The relocation of Sam Duluk to Waite and John Gardner’s retention of a changed Morialta were accomplished by contortions to rival Houdini. What debacle there was arose from inappropriate undertakings given by certain MPs. Others had to clean up the mess.

In Morphett, every Liberal MP backed McFetridge through a supportive letter.

Campbell claims they were “corralled” – yet the Liberal Parliamentary Party permits dissent on any issue.

My unlikely admission to Heaven is more probable than McFetridge winning Morphett

Campbell’s suggestion that the unanimous decision to support a colleague was coercion questions the worth of his re-emergent Right. If they don’t have the guts to say: “Preselection is a decision for branch members; I will not interfere” – are they a “force” or a fart in a bottle?

If, as he has intimated, McFetridge runs as an independent, his campaign might utilise the endorsement that failed to get him preselected. However, my unlikely admission to Heaven is more probable than McFetridge winning Morphett.

Neither is Patterson alienated from his prospective partyroom colleagues. He won the ballot fairly and has been accepted without rancour.

In my original preselection, I was not the then-leader’s choice. Neither was my colleague Dorothy Kotz. Yet we were preselected, without any suggestion that his authority had been undermined. And once elected, we both served him loyally as ministers.

As Patterson will serve Marshall loyally if he gets the chance.

Campbell asserts that the “real” Right have shored up their numbers in both candidates and disgruntled MPs. But candidates cannot vote in leadership ballots unless elected; that is, after the election.

In writing of the “real” Right, Campbell has mentioned two names. Thus far their pontifical arrogance towards factional colleagues demonstrates that they remain wet behind the ears.

The only bigger folly than knifing a leader close to an election is replacing him with an unknown.

Were the Parliamentary Liberal Party to instigate such stupidity, the challenge will not come from the Right, unless they are stupid enough to become a Trojan Horse.

The winner would come from the Left. However, the Left are too savvy to challenge now.

Critical preselections are decided. Campbell should back his claims by disclosing the gains the “real Right” has made.

By my reckoning both sides have managed to replace like with like. Both Parliamentary factions can claim direct credit for a gain of one.

Most candidates are fresh slates. To claim they are factional because some were assisted in their preselection is arrant nonsense.

David Pisoni had the insight to encourage Unley Mayor Lachlan Clyne to stand for Badcoe. Pisoni is factional. However, he recognised and encouraged talent, despite the fact that I have more chance of walking on water than he does of getting Clyne into his faction.

Marshall’s support in preselections carries the same weight, as did his predecessors’. In the Liberal Party, the leader’s authority is limited to advice and counsel. If I pay my membership, my vote in preselections has the same worth as the leader’s.

It’s neither an autocracy, nor run by faceless factional heavies. It is democratic. It is transparent.

Liberal preselections are cumbersome, gladiatorial affairs. Yet, because they are democratic, they work.

Marshall’s team at the next election is a talented cross-section of South Australia – mayors, the president of the Dairy Association, a Young South Australian of the Year, lawyers, councillors, economists and others. Not a political adviser or union heavy among them.

It’s no failure.

A commenter on InDaily noted recently: “We shouldn’t penalise the Liberals for at least having the decency to be transparent with their indecencies.”

Yet that is what Robert Campbell seeks to do, noting that “riffing about incompetence in the state Liberal team is akin to shooting fish in a barrel, landing a cuddle at Stormy’s or stirring up David Pisoni”.

Campbell should open both eyes. He might see it’s not so easy to get a cuddle at Stormy’s – she has been closed for a decade!

Mark Brindal was a state Liberal MP from 1989 until 2006. A member of the party’s conservative faction, he held a number of ministerial portfolios between 1998 and 2002. He is now involved in academic writing and is a public policy consultant.

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