Thursday, 4 August 2011

South Australian Labor in turmoil

Kevin Foley breaks silence on Mike Rann leadership deal: says some Left MPs are 'restless'

SENIOR Right-aligned minister Kevin Foley has broken his silence on the leadership crisis engulfing the Rann Labor government.

The Police Minister had been Premier Mike Rann's deputy since Labor came to power in South Australia in 2002 but was forced to relinquish the position in February to make way for new blood.

Mr Foley today said it appeared there were some restless MPs from the Left keen to force Mr Rann to step down by the time parliament resumed on September 13.

Mr Foley has avoided speaking to the media since last Friday, when Right union boss Peter Malinauskas and Treasurer Jack Snelling told Mr Rann a cross-factional deal had been brokered to replace him with the Left's Jay Weatherill.

“I don't deal with the media anymore, I am just a mentor,” Mr Foley said today after taking a call from The Australian Online.

“I am not talking to anyone, but Jay will have my full support as Premier.

“I love it. Oh dear... Have a nice day, I have to go.”

He refused further comment.

Mr Weatherill unsuccessfully challenged Mr Foley for the deputy's job, losing along factional lines, immediately after last year's narrow election win.

Mr Foley recently described the challenge as the lowest point in his 18-year political career.

He has already announced he will not recontest the next election, due in 2014, but has given no indication when he will retire.

In 2008, after a botched bid for the leadership, Mr Foley said he expected to leave politics at the same time as Mr Rann.

Earlier, Mr Weatherill, the premier-in-waiting, urged “frustrated” Labor MPs to be patient and wait for Mr Rann's return from India on Monday before threatening a leadership spill against the embattled Premier.

But Legislative Council president Bob Sneath stood by his warning that if Mr Rann does not resign by the time parliament resumes on September 13, then MPs in Mr Weatherill's Left faction will bring on a partyroom ballot.

The developments revealed cracks are now widening in the cross-factional deal to replace Mr Rann with Mr Weatherill in a so-called “seamless transition” orchestrated by Mr Malinauskas and Mr Snelling.

Mr Rann, in India on a trade mission, is keeping his own counsel on an exit date he has indicated could stretch into early next year, and is not returning Mr Weatherill's calls.

The Australian and Adelaide's daily newspaper The Advertiser today reported the minority Left had resolved to force a leadership spill if necessary after the dominant Right faction reached a consensus to back Mr Weatherill, the Education Minister and leader of the Left.

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

But Mr Weatherill called into early morning ABC Adelaide radio today to urge calm.

“I said that people needed to be patient and treat people with respect - this isn't quite what I had in mind,” he said.

“So it's not really a proper approach and I'll certainly be making that clear to Mr Sneath.

“Obviously Mr Sneath is frustrated and he's expressed his frustrations. But what I've said to people is we do need to be patient, I need to be patient and we all need to be patient until Mr Rann returns and he's said then he'll make some comments about his future.”

In a statement from India on Sunday, Mr Rann said he would stand aside only on his terms on an undisclosed date when “several key projects”, including the expansion of Olympic Dam mine, were completed.

Mr Sneath later appeared on ABC radio to warn Mr Weatherill there was a growing group of MPs who “don't always take notice of what Jay or anybody else says”.

“Now it's (new leadership plan) been brought on I think it should be done quickly,” he said.

“You can still have an opinion in the Labor Party regardless of what some people think.

“There's a number of signatures required to call a special caucus to have a leadership spill and all I indicated that I was prepared to sign and be one of those signatories.

“I think the others are there too. There's certainly half a dozen or more saying they want to bring it on and get it over and done with.

“There's quite a few in the party thinking this shouldn't drag on and on and on. It's not doing the party any good. If they wanted to wait until records were broken then they shouldn't have went and seen the Premier last Friday night.”

Mr Weatherill denied his former chief of staff and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Grace Portolesi was among those urging a challenge last Saturday before Mr Rann boarded a plane for India.

“I'm not going into the details of what occurred at the meeting but what I can say is this, that we've agreed that there'll be a transition,” he said.

“The party has decided that I'll be the next leader of the Labor Party. It's now for Mr Rann when he returns from overseas to tell us about his future.

“What I've asked for people to do in the meantime is just to be patient, to get on with the job, that's what I've been doing, and that's what the other ministers have been doing.”

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