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  • Rikki Lambert

Xenophon for Senate, Patrick a shoe-in for Grey

Despite recently writing off that he would run for Grey, independent South Australian senator Rex Patrick looks set to gun for the seat after former boss, Nick Xenophon, declared he wants to return to federal politics.

Perhaps emboldened by a state election result on Saturday that saw the independent vote surge, former senator Xenophon declared on Thursday afternoon that he would look to return to his old job.

Senator Patrick was elected on Senator Xenophon's ticket and declared on Thursday his respect for his former boss:

"I have worked for Nick as an adviser and I have great respect for him as a politician. He can again be a fine representative of our great State."

In a previous interview on Flow, Senator Patrick had indicated that if Nick Xenophon nominated for the senate, he would look to run in the House of Representatives seat of Grey against Rowan Ramsey, the incumbent Liberal.

Hear Senator Patrick's November interview on Flow outlining the circumstances where he would run for Grey if Nick Xenophon ran for the SA senate:

On today's counted votes, three of the four state electorates that largely comprise the greatest proportion of Grey returned independents.

In the west coast and Eyre Peninsula seat of Flinders the independent Liz Habermann polled 28.2 per cent of the primary vote, and 48.1 per cent of the two-party preferred vote on last count.

Rebuffed Liberal turned independent Fraser Ellis won Narungga, covering the Yorke Peninsula, with 32.5 per cent of the primary vote whilst fellow independent Dianah Walter claimed 8.6 per cent, a total of 41.1 per cent. Ellis' two party preferred vote was 58.2 per cent.

In Stuart, now local government minister in the new Malinauskas Labor cabinet, Geoff Brock switched from Frome and claimed a thumping 52.6 per cent of the primary vote, and 63.7 per cent of the two party preferred vote.

The other seat, Giles, fell to Labor with Xenophon loyalist Tom Antonio, SA Best's sole lower house candidate, taking 12.2 per cent of the primary vote.

Whilst Rex Patrick would be no shoe-in for Grey, those numbers indicate Prime Minister Scott Morrison will have another headache on his hands with a potential independent to deal with in a seat that two years ago would have been considered a 'lock' as a safe Liberal seat.

Senator Patrick indicated on Thursday he would be heading in a different direction after Mr Xenophon's announcement:

"Clearly Nick Xenophon’s decision to throw his hat into the SA Senate changes the landscape."

On Mr Xenophon's return to the federal fray, Flinders University associate professor of politics Haydon Manning observed:

"The last time he nominated for the Senate heading the ’Nick Xenophon Team’ in 2016 he managed 21 per cent of the vote but it’s difficult to see him repeating anything like that in 2022.
"Nevertheless, assuming he campaigns solidly and with his trademark stunts, one would expect a vote of around 10 per cent which, assuming reasonable support of other parties’ preferences , he is likely to be elected.
"The recent South Australian election saw unprecedented support for Independents in regional electorates suggesting Xenophon will be wise to ply his style of populist and common-sense politics in the regions.

Associate Professor Manning suggested potential Xenophon loyalists might be jaded after a poor SA Best showing in the 2018 election, where SA Best claimed 14.15 per cent of the primary vote in the House of Assembly but failed to secure any lower house seats. The 19.36 per cent vote in the Legislative Council was enough to elect Frank Pangallo and Connie Bonaros, the two facing re-election in 2026. In Saturday's election, SA Best mustered just 1.1 per cent in the Legislative Council.

Whether the slump in vote was due entirely to the total absence of Mr Xenophon from the SA Best campaign, or a broader disillusionment with his legacy in politics, will now be put to the test no later than May.

Senator Xenophon's announcement video features similar colour and branding to SA Best and Flow understands he will run with sitting senator and former ally, Stirling Griff, on his ticket. It may be no coincidence that SA Best's poor showing on Saturday without Mr Xenophon's backing may have played a role in the Senator's comeback, with 4 years left for the Hons Pangallo and Bonaros to save their political skins.


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