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Xenophon's circus building to a blockbuster final act

Opinion

Nick Xenophon, our greatest political showman, could be hiding his greatest ace up his sleeve, writes Liberal insider Robert Campbell.

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Forget the Fringe. Pass on Womad. The cyclists can take a hike. The real circus has hit Adelaide.

Xenophon, the greatest showman, has done it again this week with an epic three-day bonanza of political twists and turns. 

It wouldn’t be an election without the usual will-he-won’t-he of a Gary Johanson candidacy, often perpetuated by the colourful mayor himself. 

However, this week Johanson invoked the time-tested Not-Ruling-It-Out strategy, speaking to InDaily on a potential run with the SA Best team. 

Next Labor took to the stage, spinning and twirling polling figures based on Xenophon’s superstar efforts in the 2016 federal campaign and transposing them into Liberal seat results. The results were unsurprisingly catastrophic. 

Utilising federal results to divine potential state ones – or vice versa – is a well-worn practice of soothsayers and party hacks. It always produces compelling numbers and, more often than not, very accurate ones.  

Then, just when the audience thought the show was over, one more trick; another flash, another bang. 

Even the announcement of Xenophon’s Legislative Council ticket, which often invokes all the excitement of procedural debate at 2am, packed a punch. 

Sam Johnson, Port Augusta mayor and regional issues advocate, joined the ranks of officially despondent Liberal-turned-SA Best candidates. Placed a winnable third on the ticket, Johnson decried the lack of direction or vision of his Liberal mates who once spruiked him as future federal material. 

After winding down over the holidays, many thought Xenophon had done his dash on announcements and surprise candidacies. However, it appears Xenophon has more to pull out of the hat. Could he be saving the (SA) best for last? 

If this week is any indication, we should ready ourselves for a second act.

Sharkie could be the surprise star of the state campaign.

Xenophon is yet to announce his candidates for a myriad of potentially in-play seats, including Colton, Gibson, Finniss and Morialta. With increasingly promising polls, the maverick may have a star-studded cast waiting in the wings before writs are issued.

Despite her trigger-happy approach to media requests, the candidacy of Jassmine Wood in bayside Colton would still make waves. 

If Wood’s nomination proceeds, it will certainly raise the ire of her former mentor and western suburbs warrior, Simon Birmingham.

After her diabolical candidacy for Hindmarsh in 2010 and subsequent defection to the party’s right, they’ve got more bad blood than a Taylor Swift song. 

While widely-recognised as the nice guy of the moderate faction, he’s hardly immune to the short-term attractions of political revenge. There is no doubt he’d take the bait, diverting his increasingly vital sources to deny Wood any victory over the refreshingly competent Matt Cowdrey.

Another student of the Not-Ruling-It-Out strategy – a classic trait of local government kingmakers it seems – is Kris Hanna, who is yet to declare whether he’ll return to his old stomping ground. 

Again. 

The bane of political apparatchiks and beneficiary of a long-standing bromance with Xenophon, Hanna’s nomination would be no surprise.

Seeking round two against the affable but relatively inexperienced Corey Wingard, who will also be juggling a shadow ministry, Hanna has his best shot at making a dent in Gibson.

But it’s the curious limbo in which Mayo MP Rebekha Sharkie finds herself that could prove vital. With an unresolved citizenship issue hanging over her head, the Xenophon party MP has found herself in the purgatory of modern politics. 

Even if she survives the High Court, the AEC is eyeing her mishmash seat of Mayo for axing in the federal redistribution. An impossible and confused combination of the Adelaide Hills, the coast and Kangaroo Island, it would be a relatively easy and uncontroversial cull come April.

Rebekha Sharkie and Nick Xenophon. Photo: AAP/Mick Tsikas

Rather than languishing on the House of Representative’s benches, Sharkie could be the surprise star of the state campaign. 

Widely rebuked by pundits for not seizing the easily-obtainable Morialta for himself, the ringleader could deploy his glamorous assistant to snag the seat. Alternatively, Finniss – which is located entirely within Sharkie’s current seat – could be on the cards. 

After all, if Xenophon is unsuccessful in his questionable quest for Hartley, she’d be a decent make-shift leader. 

Even if an outside chance, these prospective candidates are all experienced operators who can run competent campaigns – without Xenophon’s obsessive oversight – and force Marshall’s Liberals to sandbag more seats.

They’d redirect resources. Their strategic selection late in this topsy-turvy election cycle can only benefit Xenophon. It’ll vex an ill-equipped, under-staffed Liberal dirt unit. It will give their new opponents no time to raise last-minute funds. 

So, ladies, gentlemen, roll up, roll up. There may not be a bearded lady but there is one hell of a contortionist. And after a stunning first act, the fun may have only just begun. 

Robert Campbell is the pseudonym of a sometime Liberal ministerial staffer.

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