Heysen heist: Conservatives defeat former Liberal minister in local party contest

Conservatives in the SA Liberal Party have flexed their muscle to prevent former Health Minister Stephen Wade – a leading moderate – from winning an internal party position, in a move described as a right wing “repudiation” of the former Marshall Government.

Jun 20, 2024, updated Jun 20, 2024
Former Liberal Party MP Stephen Wade was Health Minister form 2018 to 2022. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Former Liberal Party MP Stephen Wade was Health Minister form 2018 to 2022. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Wade, who resigned from the Upper House in January 2023 after 16 years as an MP including four years as Health Minister, last week ran for president of the Heysen State Electorate Convention (SEC).

But he was defeated by comparatively low-profile right winger Shawn Van Groesen at the SEC’s annual general meeting last Wednesday.

InDaily has been told Van Groesen, a former candidate for Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives and a manager at shipbuilders ASC, defeated Wade by just one vote.

Heysen is held by Liberal frontbencher and leading moderate Josh Teague, with the SEC overseeing his local campaign preparations, day-to-day affairs and recruiting new members.

SEC presidents set agendas for – and chair – SEC meetings while working to expand the local branch, plan events and coordinate volunteers before elections. They also get a vote on the Liberal Party’s State Council, which decides Upper House preselections at both state and federal level.

Wade’s defeat has raised the question of whether Teague could face a preselection challenge from his party’s conservative wing.

Josh Teague

Josh Teague has been the Member for Heysen since 2018. File photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

A Right-aligned source said the prospect of Teague facing a pre-selection battle “depends on how he performs”.

“I think there are a lot of people in the Heysen SEC who are not convinced that Josh will be able to hold the seat either against the Greens or the Labor Party,” they said, adding that there were branch members who believe Teague does not “represent their values”.

Teague did not respond to inquiries from InDaily

Wade declined to comment, while Van Groesen confirmed his election but did not comment further.

The Right-aligned source said Wade’s defeat was a “repudiation of the record of the Marshall Liberal Government” from local members, some of whom only recently joined the party.

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As InDaily reported in a June 2021 exclusive, members of the Liberal Right successfully started a recruitment drive in conservative churches, quickly adding hundreds of like-minded members to the party’s ranks in the wake of the former Marshall Government’s progressive reforms on abortion and voluntary assisted dying.

The Right has since made significant progress in taking control of the Liberal Party’s decision-making functions, winning a clean sweep of the party’s state executive elections last year to complement victories at the local branch level.

The conservatives’ increased local presence has allowed them to flex their muscle at State Council – the Liberal Party’s governing body – which in March elevated conservative leader and senator Alex Antic to the number one spot on the Senate ticket ahead of moderate and former minister Anne Ruston.

A moderate source said Wade’s defeat in Heysen was “disappointing” but the Left have recorded “strong results” in other internal party elections.

The moderates have this year won SEC president elections in Adelaide and Dunstan along with FEC (Federal Electorate Convention) elections in Adelaide and Sturt, the source highlighted.

“The sentiments from Heysen was that ‘okay this wasn’t a good result but what it has done is kind of shown the true colours of these people’,” they said.

“It’s only going to continue to increase efforts from the moderates but also help the moderates to work more with sensible conservatives.

“I think there’s some good signs.”

Teague suffered a 5.7 per cent swing against him at the 2022 state election, with the Liberal Party now holding Heysen on a narrow 1.9 per cent margin over Labor.

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