South Australian opposition leader Isobel Redmond’s grasp on her job appears sunk today by claims that key federal Liberal MP Jamie Briggs is behind moves to parachute in a replacement. Briggs told InDaily this morning he had made approaches to prominent businessman Ian Smith to take up a seat in State Parliament.
“I’ve been urging Smith to run for State Parliament for a year, but to say it’s about leadership is wrong — that’s a matter for the state MPs,” Briggs said. “I think [ABC presenters] Matt and Dave have over-egged it.”
However, the moves have sparked more leadership tensions within the Liberal Party.
Dubbed by party insiders as the “Campbell Newman” option, the plan has been linked to suggestions made to Redmond last month that she take the Senate vacancy created by the resignation of Mary Jo Fisher. Newman took over the conservative party leadership in Queensland last year, despite not being an elected MP at the time. His outside appointment was seen as a solution to a leadership vacuum.
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The Ian Smith plan, however, has already run into trouble — Smith has ruled it out. ABC Radio’s Matthew Abraham said this morning Smith had confirmed to him that offers were made and ruled out.
“He’s confirmed to us that ‘yes, I’ve had six approaches in the last year’,” Abraham said. “He said he had ruled it out immediately.”
Redmond has scheduled a media conference for early this afternoon.
Smith worked as a journalist for The Advertiser before moving on to political roles, initially with former SA Liberal state leader Dale Baker and later with Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett. These days he runs consultancy business Bespoke Approach with former foreign affairs minister Alexander Downer and Labor powerbroker Nick Bolkus.
Several Liberal MPs have told InDaily there is barely a single MP who thinks the Redmond leadership has much life left in it. The Briggs revelations now make a spill almost inevitable.
Meanwhile, Premier Jay Weatherill seems to be preparing the attack against his next Liberal opponent. Always very cautious in his treatment of Redmond, Weatherill has gone out of his way the past week to express sympathy for his opposite number. Last Thursday, in the wake of the “leather skirt” affair, he stated that the Liberals seemed to have problems with strong women — including their own leader.
“When you see a strong woman, like a Grace Portolesi, or a Chloë Fox or an Isobel Redmond, when they seek to assert themselves they get this locker room sort of humour thrown at them,” Weatherill told ABC Radio.
Again at a media conference yesterday, he seemed to be offering sympathy to Redmond, remarking how difficult her job must be, given the constant leaking against her. The subtext of course is very clear — the next opposition leader will have blood on their hands.
*This story was first published at InDaily