Steven Marshall seems to have the numbers to claim the leadership of the South Australian opposition. But Alexander Downer’s bid might not be dead, writes Kevin Naughton of InDaily.
Steven Marshall will lead South Australia’s Liberal Party after Monday’s leadership ballot.
Having declared his nomination this morning outside a party gathering in Port Pirie, Marshall has cross-factional support and an agreement from the only other contender, former leader Martin Hamilton-Smith, to make a clear path for him.
Two other leadership issues are yet to be resolved and the Liberal Party has the weekend to sort them out and shift the focus back onto Jay Weatherill’s dual responsibilities as Premier and Treasurer.
The first is the deputy leadership; Hamilton-Smith is expected to nominate for the position, while former deputy Vickie Chapman threw her hat into the ring this morning. Country-based MP Dan van Holst Pellekaan is another possible candidate — he is still sounding out his level of support.
The second issue is the Alexander Downer option, which party sources say has now expired. The Downer push emerged last year as an alternative to Isobel Redmond’s troubled leadership and took on a full head of steam in December. Last night senior players in the Downer push said support for move evaporated when Redmond stepped out of the leadership in a surprise development yesterday.
“The reason for the Downer push was based on the party’s failure to remove Redmond in the October challenge,” a key player told InDaily. “She has now solved that problem.”
While Downer made it clear yesterday he “had no plans” to take a position in State politics, it’s understood he could play a significant role in a Liberal government, similar to the role business leader Robert Champion de Crespigny played in Mike Rann’s first government.
Marshall, 45, kicked off his leadership at press conference this morning in Port Pirie, promising a “fresh start” for the party.
“It’s important that everyone locks in,” he said. “We need a fresh start and a united voice to take on what is a hopeless government. We need to be focused, hold the government to account and present a viable alternative.”
Marshall’s chances of uniting the party took a quick step backwards when factional player Vickie Chapman confirmed she would run for the deputy’s job.
One senior MP says the Chapman bid will spark concerns within the party the leadership change had been a “clean sweep by the moderates”: “The conservatives won’t work with Vickie and there will be an underlying suspicion that she will always hold on to her ambitions for the top job. As a relatively new MP, Steven needs a loyal deputy, not a factional player with ambitions.”
MPs are unlikely to have forgotten Chapman’s comments in the days before the 2010 state election where she undermined the Redmond leadership.
The concerns open up the way for van Holst Pellekaan to present as a non-factional compromise, but he’s also a first-term MP and the party is unlikely to have two first-termers in the top jobs. That leaves the prospect of a Marshall and Hamilton-Smith pairing that will be difficult for Weatherill to counter.
His decision to take on the Treasury portfolio last month now shapes as a big target for a focussed opposition.