Libs coy on Dunstan by-election chances, pre-selection

Opposition leader David Speirs says the Liberal Party will be the “underdog” for the Dunstan by-election and he won’t comment on the party’s pre-selection for the seat, as Labor calls on former premier Steven Marshall to give a date for his resignation.

Jan 24, 2024, updated Jan 25, 2024
Former premier Steven Marshall and Opposition leader David Speirs at today's press conference. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Former premier Steven Marshall and Opposition leader David Speirs at today's press conference. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Marshall stood outside Norwood Oval this morning to announce that he would not be seeing out his term as the Member for Dunstan.

His looming resignation will trigger a by-election in the state’s most marginal seat, which Marshall held onto in 2022 with just a 0.5 per cent margin.

The former premier today did not give a date for his resignation, only signalling that it will be at the “halfway point” of the election cycle – likely March.

The timing of the by-election will then be determined by the SA Electoral Commission and the House Speaker, independent Dan Cregan.

Asked why he was not giving his date for his resignation, Marshall said: “By announcing it today that I will be resigning in the coming months… it gives the party the chance to preselect the very best candidate to give ourselves the best shot for the by-election.

“The by-election will be a referendum at the halfway point of the Malinauskas government – they got elected on a single promise to fix ramping, by any measure they haven’t done that.

Steven Marshall David Speirs

Steven Marshall led the state from 2018 to 2022, including during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

“I don’t want to put an exact date on it. I know that some of you in the press pack have been really predicting dates, now you’ve got another opportunity to pick the final date of the by-election.”

Marshall, who was Premier from 2018 to 2022, has been criticised by Labor for being absent from question time as a backbencher and taking on private sector board appointments while in office.

The former premier today said he did not have a job lined up when he exits parliament, saying he was “really just going to take a break and then consider some options for the future”.

“It wasn’t my intention to resign,” Marshall said.

“But I came back to work on the 2nd of January… worked very hard over the last couple of years, got through most of my work and I suppose in the last week or so I formed the opinion that it was best for somebody else to take over – somebody with new ideas, fresh ideas to take this seat forward.”

Steven Marshall David Speirs

Former premier Steven Marshall and Opposition leader David Speirs leaving today’s press conference. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Marshall’s resignation is set to bring renewed scrutiny on how the Liberal Party promotes women, after the party pre-selected men for its last two vacant positions in Bragg and the Upper House.

The widely touted frontrunner for the party’s nomination in Dunstan is moderate-aligned former ministerial adviser Anna Finizio.

Finizio has been publicly critical of a focus on “niche culture war issues” within parts of the Liberal Party and has argued that women voters are being let down by policies from both major parties.

The Liberal Party currently only has two women – Ashton Hurn and Penny Pratt – in the Lower House compared to 13 men.

Asked if he thought Finizio could pull off a win in Dunstan, Marshall said: “Anna Finizio would be an excellent member of parliament there’s no doubt about that.

“But ultimately, one of the great things about the Liberal Party is that all the members of the Liberal Party get to pre-select their candidate.

“So this is a matter for the party, for the members here in Dunstan – a large number of members here in Dunstan, and they’ll have that say over the coming weeks.”

Asked if it was preferable a woman was pre-selected for Dunstan, Marshall said: “I can tell you one thing, and I think David (Speirs) would agree with me: telling Liberal members what to do is never a good idea.

“It’s a democratic process and they’ll come up with the right person – they always do.”

Finizio could not be reached for comment today.

Speirs said the Liberal Party state executive would meet later today to set some “indicative timelines” for the pre-selection.

“I want an efficient pre-selection process – I want that wrapped up in a reasonably curtailed timeframe,” he said.

Speirs publicly backed a woman to replace Vickie Chapman in the Bragg by-election but the party ultimately supported Jack Batty.

The Opposition leader said today he would not make any comment on the pre-selection process, but he said he wanted a candidate to “demonstrate the modernity of our party [and] the relevance of our party to this community”.

“One of the things Steven has taught me – and I’d wish I’d listened to it more often along the way – is to not to interfere with Liberal Party pre-selection processes, and I will definitely listen to that on an ongoing basis,” he said.

“I’m not going to make any comment… we’ve got a vibrant membership in this seat, who will be able to go through a democratic process and pick the candidate to represent the Liberal Party.”

Speirs also cast the Liberal Party as the underdog for the upcoming by-election, noting the party’s history with the seat.

“I think we are still the underdogs in this upcoming by-election,” he said.

“We have to remember that no Liberal in modern times has been re-elected in this seat, never mind to win it four times in a row.

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“It will be very hard for the Liberal Party to win in the seat of Dunstan.”

Marshall entered state parliament as the MP for the then seat of Norwood – now known as Dunstan – at the 2010 state election, ending former Labor MP Vini Ciccarello’s 13-year reign and marking the first time that Labor had been in government without holding the eastern suburbs seat.

Labor’s frontrunner for pre-selection is businesswoman Cressida O’Hanlon, who ran for the seat in 2022 and indicated to InDaily last year she intends to put her hand up again.

Transport Minister Tom Koutsantonis said today that O’Hanlon “is a fantastic candidate but we’ve got our processes to go through and the Premier will have more to say about that later”.

Cressida O'Hanlon

Cressida O’Hanlon on the campaign trail for the 2022 election with Labor leader Peter Malinauskas. Photo: supplied

He also called on the Liberal Party to give a date for Marshall’s resignation.

“What I was disappointed with today is we don’t have a date,” Koutsantonis said.

“David Speirs is playing a very very clever game here with the people of Dunstan, and they deserve better.

“Let’s be frank: the people of Dunstan haven’t had a member of parliament since 2022. For whatever reason, Mr Marshall won’t give us the date because I think they are playing a game.”

Asked whether the issue of ambulance ramping, which has soared to record highs during Labor’s time in office, would affect the government’s chances in Dunstan, Koutsantonis said: “That’s a matter for the people of Dunstan.”

“We’ve invested nearly $4 billion since we’ve come to office above what the former government were investing in health,” he said.

“But this is about local politics and what’s going to happen in the seat of Dunstan.

“The truth is this: a government has not won a seat off the Opposition in a by-election for over 100 years.

“And the last time that happened was when the Northern Territory was a part of South Australia.”

The Greens are also bullish about their prospects in Dunstan, after recording a 5 per cent swing at the last election.

Greens MLC Robert Simms said his party has already pre-selected a candidate for Dunstan who will be announced next week.

“The Greens are really optimistic about our chances in Dunstan. It’s a seat that we believe we can win,” he said.

Simms said the seat had a high percentage of renters, a demographic the Greens have been focusing on, with the party set to push again for a rent freeze in this term of parliament.

“We’ve been doing a lot of work in the seat… we expect that we’re well and truly in the mix to win the seat in a by-election,” he said.

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