4 Feb 2020
Tom Richardson | InDaily
The balance of power in the SA Liberal Party has spectacularly shifted with members of the Right faction determining to effectively cut three senior federal MPs adrift in the bitter aftermath of the weekend’s bloody Senate preselection.
Moderate-backed soon-to-be-senator Andrew McLachlan with Right-wingers Nicolle Flint and Alex Antic, who have been cut adrift by the SA Liberal Right faction. Photo: Facebook.
Several sources have confirmed that assembled Right members last night voted to exclude Barker MP Tony Pasin, Boothby’s Nicolle Flint and recently-elected Senator Alex Antic from future meetings – which they categorised as effectively purging them from the Liberal Right.
The trio, whom sources described as from the “Hard Right”, are in Canberra this week and did not attend the meeting, although it’s understood they were offered the chance to take part in a teleconference.
Pasin did not respond to questions except to say: “There was a meeting last evening [and] we indicated we weren’t in a position to participate.”
Neither Antic nor Flint responded to inquiries. Others who took part in the teleconference have contacted InDaily arguing they did not categorise the resolution – which it’s understood was couched as a bid to separate state and federal affairs – as a move to oust the trio.
However it’s understood planning is well advanced for what will effectively be a new “centre right” faction, with key players meeting with senior moderates across recent days to discuss a peace deal.
Antic and Pasin. Photo: Facebook.
The move has been triggered in part by the divisive nature of two recent campaigns: the election of state Upper House President Andrew McLachlan to fill the casual Senate vacancy created by the departure of former Right-faction leader Cory Bernardi, and the elevation of Pasin-aligned lawyer Jocelyn Sutcliffe to federal president of the Young Liberal Movement.
McLachlan won despite Pasin and Flint publicly endorsing Morry Bailes to succeed Bernardi. Bailes, Sutcliffe and Antic all hail from the same law firm, Tindall Gask Bentley.
It’s understood the state Young Liberals, who backed Nikolas Baric over Sutcliffe, have endorsed the Right’s move to what insiders are calling “the sensible centre”.
“We want to put some distance between ourselves and the [hard Right] element,” one source told InDaily.
“We’re looking at a state-level focus, and [the three federal MPs] don’t really need to get involved in that… they’ve been put to one side.”
Another suggested the faction wanted to move away from “scorched earth” politics of recent stoushes.
But the move has also been a long time coming, with one source suggesting the party has never catered adequately for the centre-right, with the factions until recently run by Christopher Pyne on the moderate Left and Bernardi on the far Right.
With both men now departed from politics, several insiders have noted a gulf in factional oversight, particularly on the Right.
It’s understood key factional players have met with senior moderates across recent weeks to discuss a peace deal with what will effectively be a new “centre right” faction.
“We want a productive and non-destructive relationship, I think in the best interests of the party [but] we’ll certainly continue to play hard but fair,” one Right-winger said.
It’s a significant gambit given the Right only last year won a concrete majority on state council for the first time since long-retired Senator Nick Minchin ran the state faction.
Some argue the move is purely designed to avoid internecine struggles that have historically dogged the state party, contributing to its long history of electoral failure.
But any peace deal is likely to ultimately lead to a shake-up in senior positions within government, with one source saying: “We want government and politics which reflect the view which is enshrined in the Liberal Party’s constitution… there’s a need, accordingly, for the Government to be reflective of that mix of views in the party more generally.”
“That’s the key driver – to get people into positions,” they said.
It’s understood the remodelled faction will take a more conciliatory approach to issues such as climate change and reconciliation, effectively giving the state party licence to progress those issues.
The move could leave the hard Right sidelined if the moderates refuse to deal with them, with one MP describing them as having the look of “a small little sub-faction”.