EXCLUSIVE | State parliament’s Legislative Council president Andrew McLachlan is considering a bombshell bid to snare outgoing senator Cory Bernardi’s vacant federal seat, in a move that will ignite factional tensions within the SA Liberal Party.
InDaily understands McLachlan – who is up for re-election to the state’s Upper House in 2022, and was expected to seek his party’s re-endorsement for the Legislative Council ticket early next year – is taking soundings from both the moderate and conservative wings of the party about nominating for the senate casual vacancy.
His candidacy would turn the contest on its head, after an influential coterie of the party’s ascendant Right-wing had earlier locked in behind Tindall Gask Bentley managing partner and Law Council of Australia past president Morry Bailes.
Asked whether he was considering a run for the seat, McLachlan told InDaily today: “It’s not my practice to comment on internal party matters.”
But it’s believed his decision will depend on how much support he can expect to garner from the conservative Right faction, which has the numbers to snare the nomination but appears split about who to support.
While Bailes commands a significant bloc of support, prominent Right-winger and former party Treasurer Michael Van Dissel has confirmed to InDaily he is also “giving serious consideration” to running, adding: “I’m being encouraged by a number of senior party members to nominate.”
Insiders say if Van Dissel and McLachlan both run, the moderate faction would lock in behind the Upper House president, while the Right would splinter between the three separate candidates, virtually assuring McLachlan the nomination.
Even a head-to-head standoff between Bailes and McLachlan would be fraught if the moderate wing used McLachlan’s candidacy as an opportunity to cruel Bailes’ bid.
While McLachlan is not considered a major factional player, he has broad support across the party’s grassroots, and is understood to have been shoring up support with Upper House preselections looming in the new year.
He has support within the conservative wing of the party, who consider him “not a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Left”.
“Andrew has been as hard-working a person with state council as anyone I’ve ever seen,” one insider noted.
“He’s been fanatical.”
McLachlan’s tenure as president is set to end in April under a factional deal that saw him elevated after the election with a promise to step aside in favour of right-winger Terry Stephens, as InDaily revealed last year.
Unless Premier Steven Marshall elevates him in a reshuffle, that would mean a return to the backbench if he opts not to contest the senate.
“I think he’s giving it really strong consideration, which is complicated [but] I think if he was to run he’d be a strong chance, because he’s the most popular Upper House member that we have at the moment, state or federal,” said one senior source.
“He works hard, he goes to everything… he’d have a very strong following in his own right.”
The mooted move would also allow the Right to fill a casual Legislative Council vacancy straight away, with Riverland veterinarian and recently re-elected party vice-president Nicola Centofanti expected to get the nod. It would also give “clean air” to Stephens as he takes over the presidency, insiders argue.
The moderates were expected to back ousted vice-president and Sound Radiology CEO Cara Miller as their nominee, but sources said with other federal opportunities looming she could be convinced not to run this time if it appeared likely McLachlan could win the ballot.
Miller did not comment on that suggestion today, saying she was still considering her position.
“There’s a lot not rumours flying around… we’ll just see how it all plays out,” she said.