Liberal conservatives line up to slam ‘draconian’ Marshall

The most outspoken critics of the Marshall Government’s measures to curb South Australia’s latest COVID outbreak come from within his own party, with federal Liberals lining up to slam the state’s “draconian” approach.

Jul 26, 2021, updated Jul 26, 2021
SA senator Alex Antic at a recent Liberal state council meeting.  Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

SA senator Alex Antic at a recent Liberal state council meeting. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

Federal members of the SA party’s Right faction were prominent across the weekend in criticising SA authorities’ approach – particularly the escalation of ‘directed quarantine’ in medi-hotels for people who had visited Tier 1 exposure sites, which Liberal senator Alex Antic called “a bridge too far”.

Antic told Sky News Australia on the weekend the move was “an entirely dramatic thing to do”.

“This is a direction of the state coordinator [Grant Stevens]… who has done a very good, job but this is a bridge too far,” he said.

“What we’re talking about here is detaining people who have committed no crime, who have done nothing other than simply visit sites in the past week.”

Antic lambasted the “draconian process”, insisting people were detained “in some cases against their will, although we’ve been told it was done in consultation”.

But he went further, criticising the lockdown itself, saying the approach to pandemic management was a “blunt instrument”.

“This system is no longer fit for purpose,” he told Sky News Australia.

“We’ve had 18 months to get this right and frankly we have to do better.”

Antic suggested existing “elimination strategies are no longer working”, saying: “People are getting sick of this… and they’re right to be sick of this.”

He said the low case numbers in SA was at odds with the rhetoric from Government authorities, saying it was “hardly a super spreader”.

“I would like to see more Liberals reminded of what Sir Robert Menzies would have done in this situation, which is to respect people’s freedom and liberty and the economy – which has taken a very big hit,” he said.

“Those three things may end up being more impacted than the public health side of this.”

Antic said the health bureaucracy in SA was “running rampant”.

“Health bureaucracies of all kinds run on a very different clock than the private sector,” he said.

“They’re not taking a pay cut, they’re not having to throw away stock – the private sector is.”

His comments were echoed by fellow Right-winger Nicolle Flint, the outgoing MP for Boothby, who tweeted her own critique of the directed quarantine measures on the weekend.

“I’m sorry but this is COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE,” Flint wrote.

“Why can’t people self-iso at home? This draconian act will mean in future people will not go out and support small businesses like wineries and restaurants who are already under pressure, or not do COVID sign in.”

She went further in a column published in NewsCorp, demanding the State Government apologise for lengthy COVID-testing queues “and the terrible decision to force innocent people from their homes and into medi-hotels”.

Marshall has already issued public apologies over the long wait times for people getting tested, which have since been brought down.

Flint wrote that “the decision to force people from the safety and comfort of their homes into medi-hotels needs to be reversed, when their only crime was bad luck for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“No other state has done this,” she said.

I’m sorry but this is COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE. Why can’t people self-iso at home? This draconian act will mean in future people will a) not go out & support small businesses like wineries & restaurants (who are already under pressure bcos of COVID), or, b) not do COVID sign in.

— Nicolle Flint (@NicolleFlint) July 22, 2021

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A staffer of Flint’s went further, tweeting a blistering critique of the decision to lock down the state.

In response to an opinion piece by Advertiser columnist Caleb Bond, electorate assistant Isaac Trumble tweeted: “Premiers around Australia need to end this lockdown insanity, which is destroying people’s income, livelihoods and happiness.”

Former Liberal Right-faction heavyweight Cory Bernardi, who left the party in 2017 to form the shortlived Australian Conservatives, also tweeted his strong opposition to Marshall’s directed quarantine measures.

“Where else can the police forcibly remove you from your home when you have committed no crime and imprison you until some unelected bureaucrat says you can leave,” he wrote.

“There is no court, no appeal – just a few bureaucrats decreeing state-sanctioned detention.

“Disgraceful SA.”

He also referred to the mandatory quarantine policy a “disgraceful imprisonment policy of the SA Government”, saying of his former colleagues: “For a bunch of Liberal wets, they act like the CCP [Chinese Communist Party].”

Marshall said today he had not contacted or been contacted by any of his internal party critics.

“People can contact me – I’m pretty accessible,” he told reporters.

“When you’re in government you’ve got to make tough decisions [and] we will do whatever it takes to keep our state safe.

“We make decisions which are in the overall best [interests] of our state.”

Marshall said he had been “listening to the experts… not responding to Twitter or commentary from people right across the board”.

“Since day one I’ve had people telling me we’ve gone too hard or too soft – there will always be criticism, there’s a lot of frustration out there [and] we’re the first to acknowledge there have been a lot of businesses, individuals [and] families who have been massively impacted by the restrictions, but we’ve got to weigh that up against what’s in the overall best interests of our state.”

The Liberal Right is poised to push for a takeover of the SA party when its state council convenes for its annual general meeting.

State director Sascha Meldrum advised members on Friday that the lockdown had indefinitely postponed the AGM, following on from similar deferrals of key votes at the Young Liberals and Women’s Council meetings.

A vote to anoint a Legislative Council replacement for SA’s new UK Agent-General David Ridgway – which was scheduled for this week – has also been deferred.

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