Liberal MPs fuming, Premier a no-show at Dan Cregan's swearing in after speakership coup

By Stacey Pestrin and Daniel Keane
Premier Steven Marshall did not attend as Dan Cregan was sworn in as Speaker. (ABC News: Leah MacLennan)

South Australia's political landscape is currently in disarray in the wake of a Liberal defector's shock ascendancy to the speakership, with a former colleague describing the coup as the "biggest dog act" he has seen in politics.

Newly-independent Member for Kavel Dan Cregan assumed the speaker's chair in an extraordinary session of parliament that dragged on well into the night, following a backroom alliance between disaffected former Liberals on the crossbench and the Labor opposition.

Premier Steven Marshall was blindsided by the move, leading a walk-out from parliament before lashing out at Mr Cregan on breakfast radio and avoiding the new Speaker's swearing in.

The machinations have also led to a moment of deep self-reflection for the Premier, who conceded that while his focus over the past 18 months had been "100 per cent" on coronavirus, "maybe I should have spent more time on the politics".

While the recriminations and the fallout are only beginning, Liberal MPs wasted no time in pouring scorn on Mr Cregan's move.

Veteran Liberal MP Adrian Pederick — a factional conservative — voiced his disgust on his way into parliament this morning.

But those sentiments were not shared by the government's political rivals.

Upper House SA Best MP Connie Bonaros, whose police complaint against fellow MP Sam Duluk led to the former Liberal's relegation to the crossbench, expressed doubts about Mr Marshall's leadership.

"I did stay around until late to watch what was going on — it was interesting.

"The certainty that this government thinks that it has — clearly, clearly it doesn't have."

Upper House MP Connie Bonaros was in the Lower House chamber to watch events unfold. (ABC News)

Mr Cregan's move to the speakership was made possible by new legislation, which also passed last night, requiring the chair be occupied by an independent MP.

Greens MP Robert Simms said he would like to see a similar policy implemented in the Upper House.

"Today is independents' day in state parliament," he said.

"Finally, the independents are flexing their muscle and it's a big opportunity for the crossbench as well to reform our parliament."

Labor has relished the moment, with MP Nat Cook saying she thought the ousting of former speaker Josh Teague was "indicative of the division that I've seen developing" within the Liberal Party.

Marshall hits out at Cregan

The Premier was a no-show at Mr Cregan's formal swearing in this morning.

Speaking to David Bevan on ABC Radio Adelaide earlier this morning, Mr Marshall said Mr Cregan had "put his own self-interest before that of his electorate".

"He's left the party, he's got a big pay bump, he's got a car, he's got a driver, he's got a huge amount of influence and it's hard to see how this benefits, in any way, shape or form, the people of Kavel," he said.

"Dan Cregan is a highly-ambitious person. He wasn't satisfied with being on the backbench.

"The reality is he's now the Speaker, in extraordinary scenes last night where the constitution was amended without much thought whatsoever."

In response, Mr Cregan said he did not take the role "to seek any economic compensation".

"I've never driven a government car, I don't intend to drive one, I've got a 50th anniversary Ford Falcon I'll be keeping driving.

"I think I'm amongst a small handful of MPs out of the 69 who have never driven a government car."

SA Premier Steven Marshall accused David Bevan of "grubby" questioning during an interview on ABC Radio Adelaide.

Despite Mr Marshall's attack, Mr Cregan said the Premier was "working incredibly hard for the people of South Australia" as was the opposition leader Peter Malinauskas.

"I have a great respect for the Premier, I have a great respect for the Leader of the Opposition and a great respect for the parliament and the crossbench, which now has a much more significant role to play in the life of this parliament," he said.

MPs point to Cregan's 'personal gain'

Treasurer Rob Lucas echoed the Premier's comments, questioning "how a pay increase of $150,000 for Dan Cregan is actually going to do a single thing to assist his constituents … which he indicates is his primary purpose".

Meanwhile, Education Minister John Gardner said it was "always sad when you see an individual, or even a couple of people, betraying their principles for personal gain".

"I think that it's funny one day you've got somebody is saying they're doing something for their electorate and the next day they are taking a new job that actually takes their vote off the floor of the house and removes their capacity to ask questions for the benefit of their electorate," he said.

"Many of them who might have welcomed what he had to say on the weekend can only look at what happened last night and really wonder what on earth he was thinking."

However, others took a different view, with Independent MP Frances Bedford said she hoped Mr Marshall "will get over his disappointment and realise that the parliament is a much bigger institution than any one of us".

"There is absolutely no way parliament can continue with people screaming at each other," she said.

"It's just not going to happen.

Mr Marshall acknowledged there had been "some instability in the parliament" but hoped the parliament could "now regroup and focus on things that are important for the people of our state".

Inquiry 'politically motivated', Premier says

Meanwhile, Mr Marshall said parliament's decision to set up a select committee to investigate the conduct of Attorney-General Vickie Chapman was "very politically motivated".

"It's unprecedented and it's clearly politically motivated and it begs the question: how long was this in the planning?" he said.

The Premier said he had complete confidence in Ms Chapman. (ABC News)

Mr Marshall said he had "full confidence in the Attorney-General".

"The reality is that she (has a) responsibility under the Act and she's fully aware of her roles and her responsibilities and she's discharged her obligations extraordinarily well," he said.

"She's an outstanding Attorney-General."


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