Friday, 5 August 2011

Challenge me, Mike Rann taunts Labor powerbrokers

Mike Rann dared Labor factional powerbrokers to challenge him in a bloody partyroom coup when told they had chosen Education Minister Jay Weatherill to replace him as premier of South Australia, it can be revealed.

Senior Labor sources said the long-serving Premier had questioned the courage of the factions after union boss Peter Malinauskas and Treasurer Jack Snelling told Mr Rann the dominant Right had agreed to back Mr Weatherill, the leader of the Left, rather than their own factional candidate in Deputy Premier John Rau.

"Challenge me, I dare you to challenge me," Mr Rann said at the meeting in his office last Friday, on the eve of a one-week trade mission to India.

Mr Malinauskas would not confirm or deny the taunt. Mr Snelling refused to comment.

A spokesman for Mr Rann said: "The Premier will be addressing the events of last weekend when he returns from India next week."

Mr Weatherill said yesterday the Premier was ignoring his calls and text messages, thus he could only make assumptions about what Mr Rann might do.

This came as momentum built yesterday among a rogue group of MPs in Mr Weatherill's Left faction to force a leadership spill if Mr Rann did not announce next week his intention to resign before parliament resumed on September 13.

Legislative Council president Bob Sneath stood by his warning, reported in The Australian yesterday, that there was a group of MPs prepared to force a leadership spill regardless of the wishes of factional bosses and Mr Rann to "avoid the undignified spectacle".

Only six MPs' signatures are required to force a partyroom ballot.

"I am prepared to sign and be one of those signatories, and I think the others are too," Mr Sneath said on ABC radio. "There's certainly half a dozen or more saying they want to bring it on and get it over and done with."

Mr Weatherill had called into Adelaide's ABC radio breakfast program earlier to urge "frustrated MPs" to be patient. "It's not really a proper approach and I'll certainly be making that clear to Mr Sneath," he said. But Mr Sneath said there was a growing group of MPs who "don't always take notice of what Jay or anybody else says".

Mr Weatherill called a news conference late yesterday and refused to rule out a challenge to Mr Rann, saying he would await his return on Monday.

In a statement from India on Sunday, Mr Rann said he would stand aside when "key projects" were completed. It is understood he may be presented with a further ultimatum on Monday to announce his retirement within five weeks or face a leadership ballot he does not have the numbers to survive.

"I am sure he will act in the best interests of South Australians," Mr Weatherill said.

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