Marshall set for backbench, won’t force by-election

EXCLUSIVE | Former Premier Steven Marshall says he won’t accept a frontbench role in Opposition but insists he will serve out his four-year term after narrowly holding his seat of Dunstan, as one of his senior colleagues rules himself out of the race to replace him as Liberal leader.

Mar 28, 2022, updated Mar 28, 2022
Steven Marshall arrives to cast his vote in the state election this month. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

Steven Marshall arrives to cast his vote in the state election this month. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

Marshall remains Opposition Leader while his party sifts through the ruins of this month’s election, with a party-room meeting to elect his replacement not expected for weeks.

It’s understood he will not be expected to be a vocal opponent of the new Malinauskas Government in that time but is “holding the fort”, with the Liberals likely waiting until the Legislative Council vote is finalised and the full make-up of the party-room is known before deciding its new leadership team.

Marshall, who last week declared he would stand down as leader, today confirmed to InDaily he would not seek or accept a role on the Opposition frontbench – despite the Liberals returning to parliament with only 16 House of Assembly MPs.

The Government, by contrast, will have 13 ministers in the Lower House alone – including crossbencher Geoff Brock – as well as two frontbenchers in the Upper House, Kyam Maher and Clare Scriven.

“No, I don’t think there’s much point in that at this stage,” said Marshall when asked if he would serve on the frontbench.

“I’ve got to give the new leadership time [but] I’ll be as supportive as I possibly can.

“I don’t intend to go on after [the next state election in] 2026, so the best thing is to support the new team as necessary.”

Marshall declared during the campaign that he would serve out his full four-year term even if he lost the premiership, and asked if this was still his intention he said today: “Yes, absolutely.”

The party would be nervous about its prospects in any by-election after the former Premier was on the weekend confirmed the winner in his Norwood-based Dunstan electorate – with a new margin of just 0.5 per cent.

Asked if he had any reflections on the reasons for the election rout, he said: “No, I’ll leave that to all you guys to do that.”

It comes as his former Education Minister John Gardner – the former manager of Government Business and the most senior moderate in the party-room – today ruled himself out of the leadership contest.

“I’m happy to advise that I won’t be running for the leadership of the party,” he said.

Insiders say he will be in the mix for the deputy leadership, but he declined to comment on that today, saying: “As for any other roles, we’ve got time to work through that – I’m not making any further comment.”

Gardner said it would be “a little while” before the party-room reconvened, noting that “after the last election Labor took a few weeks” to elect its leadership team of Peter Malinauskas and Susan Close – who today chaired their first meeting of the new Labor cabinet.

In the meantime, he said, “we have a Leader of the Opposition in Steven Marshall, and I think we’ll be in a position to offer a strong Opposition in the coming term”.

InDaily has been told that team is unlikely to include Marshall’s former deputy Vickie Chapman, whom sources have said “won’t be seeking a leadership position [or] a shadow role at this stage”.

Chapman quit the deputy leadership late last year and is still awaiting the findings of an Ombudman’s inquiry after a parliamentary committee found she had actual and perceived conflicts of interest when she rejected a deep sea timber port on her native Kangaroo Island.

She was replaced as deputy premier by Dan van Holst Pellekaan, who lost his seat in the election bloodbath, while her replacement in her various ministries, Josh Teague, is understood to be “considering all options” about both vacant leadership roles but “hasn’t made up his mind” as to whether to nominate for either.

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Gardner, however, declined to speculate on Chapman’s future, saying only: “Vickie Chapman’s got an enormous amount of talent and a great deal of experience, but any consideration of that is a matter for the new leadership of the party – once that matter is resolved.”

Chapman did not respond to inquiries.

Former Police Minister Vincent Tarzia – a longtime confidant of Gardner’s – is strongly tipped to run for the deputy’s role, with one source saying “he’s probably the person doing the most calling of colleagues at the moment”.

Tarzia declined to comment, telling InDaily via text message he was “enjoying some time with the family this week” – while Teague did not respond to inquiries.

Former frontbencher Tim Whetstone’s name has also been mentioned in dispatches for the deputy leadership vacancy, but he did not comment today.

The broad consensus is that ex-Environment Minister David Speirs is the favourite for the leadership, for which he is “considering his position” and “more likely than not to put himself forward”.

The only MP to publicly declare his intention to run is Mackillop maverick Nick McBride, who appears unlikely to garner broad support across the party-room.

One source told InDaily: “There’s broad consensus that everybody’s going to rally behind who the party-room decides, so that’s a promising situation.”

One-time frontbencher and former Government whip Adrian Pederick, who survived a strong swing against him in his Hammond stronghold, indicated he would be happy to return to the Liberal frontbench.

“I’m certainly always prepared to do more for my community, but we’ll see what happens in discussions,” he said.

“I always keen to do a bit more, and I’ll have those discussions with my colleagues [but] I’ll be privileged to take on whatever capacity a new leader feels appropriate, for not just the party but the community.”

Asked about the causes of the defeat, he said: “What I will say is that the people have spoken and I respect democracy, absolutely.”

“We did a lot of good things for the state – $18 billion in infrastructure, investments in health, education, roads and across the board,” he said.

“My personal opinion is I think people were COVID-tired and perhaps we didn’t sell we’d done as well as we could and perhaps didn’t sell our vision as well as we could have.”

There have been calls for the party’s state president Legh Davis to fall on his sword, but he is yet to do so – with his role up for re-election later this year in any case.

The man he narrowly beat for the position in 2020, country doctor Max van Dissel, confirmed today he had been “sounded out about running again”, but said: “I’ll make that decision when that occurs.”

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