The “Honest Izzy” factor has again fuelled speculation about the Liberal leadership in South Australia.
A sunny winter’s day in Adelaide, not much happening in local politics, and the state opposition leader Isobel Redmond was surrounded by journalists outside Parliament House conceding she had thought about running for the Senate. Yes, it’s a special gift to the media, the way she keeps putting her foot in it. She doesn’t have to do it but she does, time and again.
Earlier yesterday she needlessly went on ABC Local Radio and confirmed that a party supporter had suggested she fill the casual Senate vacancy caused by the early resignation of Mary Jo Fisher owing ill health last month. “I won’t be dishonest, I am aware that there was a suggestion,” Redmond told breakfast listeners.
The only way of reading this was that a key ally thought that her time was up as SA parliamentary leader. Better to grab a convenient Senate seat and make way for someone else to lead the fight against the Weatherill government in the next election.
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An otherwise quiet news day in state politics suddenly turned into another chase for leadership blood.
First question, who had suggested that Redmond make a Senate bid? Among the possibilities floated at the media conference were opposition frontbenchers Iain Evans and David Ridgway, federal Liberal frontbencher Christopher Pyne, and state Liberal director Bev Barber.
Redmond refused to be baited. “Because I gave the person my word that I wouldn’t disclose the discussions …” she said.
The fact remained that someone had leaked against her to the media. “It’s just part of what happens in politics,” she answered, adding that she had since spoken to her confidante and was assured the leak had not come from that person.
Was it a member of the federal parliamentary team, she was asked? “I am not going to be answering question after question …”
The leadership issue surfaced on breakfast radio when Redmond responded to criticism of her leadership style by a defeated Liberal candidate in the 2010 state election. Matt Donovan blamed his loss in the marginal seat of Mawson on what he said was a lack of support and strategic nous from his leader — Redmond.
She agreed to go on radio to respond, unnecessarily. Then she was bushwhacked by a question about her filling the Senate vacancy, and agreed she had been approached about it by a party friend.
She stood her ground at the media conference. “It was a perfectly sensible answer to a question that was put to me unexpectedly on radio … Yes, I was approached by a single person. It wasn’t a member of the state parliamentary team and more than that need not be said.”
Strike Evans and Ridgeway.
Redmond didn’t see the suggested swap to the Senate as a reflection on her Liberal leadership in SA, not in “any way, shape or form”. The furore was “merely a distraction from the real issue … a non-event”.
A distraction she had created, though she said the whole thing was now irrelevant since she self-evidently was not interested in the senate position.
Except for one nagging problem, which came in this answer about the context of the confidante’s discussion: “I think it was a serious suggestion and I certainly considered it and dismissed it.”
Considered it? Why? For how long did she consider it? “I’m not going to tell you,” she said, twice.
Why was the suggestion even floated by her confidante if she was doing a good job as SA leader? “You’d have to ask that person … I think they probably thought I’d do an excellent job as a senator …” She also threw in: “I’d make a good senator but I’d make an even better premier.”
Yes, but did it destabilise her leadership? “No, not at all …”
The name was raised of her predecessor as state opposition leader, Martin Hamilton-Smith, who is thought to have the numbers should a challenge eventuate, though he has promised not to push the issue.
Had she sought an assurance from Hamilton-Smith that he would not challenge? “I haven’t sought assurances from anyone. I am confident they won’t challenge me and I have no need to seek such assurances.” Redmond had previously told InDaily she has the rock-solid support of her parliamentary colleagues.
The media conference was halted at the urging of her minders, who had heard enough. By then, though, the story had opened another chink in Redmond’s leadership credentials.
The new damage done yesterday came on top of her ill-advised decision to back a losing candidate, Bev Barber, in the Senate preselection contest last month. Redmond also generated national headlines when she told a CEDA luncheon earlier in the year that the best way to deal with gender discrimination was to ignore it and it would “just disappear”. And to make matters worse, she is trailing Premier Jay Weatherill in the polls.
Redmond came to the role as leader in July 2009 as a perfect foil to the style of Mike Rann, and narrowly lost the 2010 state election. That near-thing no longer counts in the currently twitchy Liberal atmosphere.
Redmond would be mindful, too, that Rann was undone in July 2011 by a cleverly timed leak of a meeting where it was suggested he move on, which he did in bad grace. That leak ended the Rann leadership — and it appears someone in the Liberal Party is using the same tactic against Redmond.
Meanwhile, the SA branch of the Liberal Party will begin its search for a new state director after incumbent Barber resigned this week. The party says it has already received expressions of interest from around Australia.
Barber, who is close to Redmond, had stepped aside from the role to contest the preselection for the casual Senate vacancy caused by the resignation of incumbent Mary Jo Fisher. She lost the ballot last Friday night, gathering only 30 of the 207 State Council delegate votes.
When InDaily spoke to Barber yesterday she said she had stepped aside and was on “a well-deserved holiday”. Liberal Party president Grant Chapman said later he had received her letter of resignation in the days since the vote.
“Bev had stood aside, but resigned after the preselection had finished,” he said. “We’ll fill the position either from the already impressive expressions of interest we have had by word of mouth, or if need be, advertise. There’s a lot of interest in the position.”
The party’s annual general meeting is scheduled for August 18.
*This article was first published at InDaily