Tom Richardson | InDaily
UPDATED | SA Liberal moderates are rallying to shore up support for Marshall Government minister Michelle Lensink as the party’s Right faction gears up for a concerted assault on Legislative Council seats.
The party’s state executive will open nominations for its 2022 Upper House ticket next week – with preselections to be finalised in March.
That will see the Liberals set to spend the festive season locked in factional wrangling, with the Right faction spruiking an all-woman list of potential conservative candidates.
Names mentioned in dispatches include current vice-president Nicola Centofanti, accountant Heidi Girolamo, Grain Producers SA CEO Caroline Rhodes, Women’s Council president Laura Curran and Yorke Peninsula councillor Tania Stock.
Of the current sitting MLCs up for re-election, at least one – Treasurer Rob Lucas – has already flagged his looming departure, while likely lead candidate Andrew McLachlan is increasingly expected to instead throw his hat in the ring for the casual senate vacancy created by the retirement of former Liberal Cory Bernardi.
Moderate mainstay John Dawkins is widely expected to retire – or face a concerted preselection challenge – but told InDaily he hadn’t made his mind up as yet and was “consulting with a few people” before formalising a decision in the new year.
“I’m getting a lot of support for the work I’m doing in the suicide prevention area,” said Dawkins who chairs the Premier’s Council on Suicide Prevention.
That leaves Human Services Minister Lensink and former Family First leader Dennis Hood – who joined the Liberals after the state election – fighting to retain their seats.
Hood confirmed today he intended to renominate, while Lensink did not return calls.
But moderate insiders suggested there was a push within the Right to “take [Lensink] out at the knees” by leaving her stranded in an unwinnable position down the Legislative Council ticket.
“I think she’s in quite a bit of strife,” said one.
“There’s a move within the conservatives to take her out or drop her down the ticket, as a show of ‘we can do this so we will’.”
One insider suggested the faction was not united in its bid, arguing the move would be “very provocative” and would likely spark broader factional reprisals.
Convention dictates that a sitting minister should be easily returned, but this year’s Liberal AGM – which saw four Right-aligned vice-presidents elected – suggested the moderate faction is no longer certain of commanding strong numbers among the party’s state council.
Another source suggested the move against Lensink suggested “the usual return to factional warfare that’s cost us government every time before… unless enough sensible state councillors think enough’s enough”.
But a conservative-aligned insider dismissed a mooted challenge, saying: “It’s an interesting suggestion but commonsense will always prevail.”
“She’s a sitting minister, I’d be surprised if she’s not Number One on the ticket… she’ll certainly get enough votes to make sure she’s preselected,” they said.
“There may be some people who have fanciful ideas about things… people say silly things at silly times [but] the reality of life is sitting members are always returned.
“Why anybody would even contemplate doing anything that wasn’t team oriented is beyond me.”
It’s understood McLachlan has told colleagues he would not renominate for the Legislative Council if he runs for the senate unsuccessfully, with colleagues expecting he will shortly announce his intent to take on lawyer Morry Bailes for the casual vacancy.
“I’m almost certain he’s going to run [and] if he stands, he’s a very short-priced favourite to win,” said one colleague.
“The brutal reality is that two weeks ago Morry was a lock to win the senate spot, and now it’s a very genuine contest.”
It’s understood influential Right-winger and former party Treasurer Michael Van Dissel has already lodged his nomination for the senate vacancy, which would make it at least a three-cornered contest with votes split between Right-faction candidates.
Centofanti is favoured to take McLachlan’s place in the Legislative Council straight away if he vacates his seat for a senate run.