Reserving prized senate seats for machine operators and faceless hacks with a lifetime of party experience has been a long-standing media trope when discussing the ALP, but the rough factional dichotomy between moderates and conservatives in the Liberal Party delivers us plenty of senators elected for little other reason than to consolidate their tribe’s position in the party structure.
Sean Edwards is one such politician — a 49-year-old former vigneron whose career hinges on his appointment to the South Australian Liberal Party presidency after factional infighting between Nick Minchin’s far right conservatives and Christopher Pyne’s moderates, coupled with a string of embarrassing mistakes, caused the SA branch of the party to implode.
In 2007, the SA Liberal Party was facing significant financial troubles, caused by a shortfall in corporate donations. Then-president Christopher Moriarty presented a business plan to the party room, but Iain Evans, SA Opposition Leader after the Libs 2006 rout, demurred. Moriarty accused Evans of being "gutless" and "piss-weak", Evans indicated he might challenge, but was polling poorly against Mike Rann and within the Liberal Party.
Edwards took the party presidency in August 2007, after Moriarty allegedly made a last minute decision to leave after being pushed by Liberal heavy Brian Loughnane and SA State Director John Burston. He claimed his leadership had been continually undermined. A reasonably fresh candidate for the position, Edwards was appointed in order to defuse the situation and improve the party’s finances — basically, to finish eating the shit sandwich Moriarty had been chewing on during his term.
The Moriarty-Evans incident was the catalyst for a seemingly unstoppable train of embarrassments for the party. Allegations were made that the succession for Alexander Downer’s seat of Mayo was "manipulated". Evans’ successor as Opposition Leader, Martin Hamilton-Smith, unsuccessfully accused Premier Mike Rann of corruption and of accepting donations from a Church of Scientology front. Allegations were made that the Liberal Party had branchstacked in the Fisher pre-selection. The moderates attempted to stack the Young Liberals. Despite having tanked, Evans and Moriarty both kept floating to the surface of the media cycle, vying for various party and parliamentary positions.
This is the history Edwards brings to the Senate — the less-than-enviable position of being the "other guy", brought in to put a dampener on the rampant, destructive antics of the rest of the party.
He even struggled to do that — in 2010 former Liberal Premier Dean Brown was appointed Mike Rann’s "special drought adviser" without Edwards’ knowledge, leaving him to whinge that he should be trying to get the Libs re-elected instead of consulting for Labor.
Things have not improved since the election of Isobel Redmond to Opposition Leader in 2009. Liberal MPs continue to scandalise the party, and demand each other’s scalps, even as late as last month, when two MPs were rebuked for meddling in sporting matters.
Despite his party service, and status as one of the saner SA Libs, Edwards’ preselection was opposed by Minchin’s conservatives, who tried to manipulate the timing of preselections in order to get David Fawcett the spot. Minchin claimed at the time that Edwards had eschewed any Senate aspirations in favour of a supporting role as president.
At any rate, both men ended up elected, but what’s the end result? The perpetuation of vicious factional politics, and another faceless man in the Senate.
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