Antic declares left wing ‘pandemic’ as SA Liberals’ shift to right confirmed

Alex Antic speech to Parliament

Source: X/Alex Antic

South Australian senator Alex Antic has rallied the state’s Liberals to campaign against a “pandemic of wokeness” in a successful pitch speech that has raised moderate fears about their party’s electoral future.

Antic narrowly defeated former cabinet minister Anne Ruston in a weekend preselection ballot to take No.1 spot on the party’s Senate ticket for the next federal election.

Ruston was relegated to No.2, despite having the behind-the-scenes backing of federal leader Peter Dutton. Both Antic and Ruston are likely to be elected given past South Australian voting patterns.

Sitting senator David Fawcett took third position, ahead of Antic’s right faction colleague Leah Blyth, the president of the party’s conservative-controlled women’s council.

According to a Liberal source who was at the Liberal State Council meeting, before the vote, Antic told the gathered members that Australia faced a “pandemic of wokeness”, and then gave a speech extensively focused on the evils of radical gender ideology.

Ruston and Fawcett both received extended applause from the gathered members, but “it’s interesting that it didn’t marry up with the votes”.

anne ruston

Former cabinet minister Anne Ruston had the support of Liberal leader Peter Dutton.

The member, a moderate, said the faction was concerned the elevation of Antic to the No.1 position on the ticket implied an endorsement of his policy positions, which they said were electorally unpalatable.

They warned the party needed to take stock “before we sleepwalk into complete electoral irrelevance”.

“His views are simply out of step with our centrist state,” the source said.

“Political parties exist to win elections and govern. There’s no way these views are electorally palatable so I’m not sure how this helps anyone or anything.”

The source said their only hope was that the blow to Ruston would encourage the moderate leadership to take action.

“They’ve failed to run any candidates in the last three crucial ballots and it’s paved the way for this to happen. Antic did what Antic does, but you need a strong left faction to keep these things in check.”

Antic has been contacted for a response.

The senator, a lawyer first elected in 2019, generally doesn’t speak to what he terms “mainstream media”, although he is a regular on Sky News – the television outlet of Australia’s biggest media company News Corp.

He told News Corp’s The Australian on the weekend that he didn’t believe his elevation over South Australia’s most senior Liberal woman would do any electoral damage.

“The ‘gender card’ is nothing but a grievance narrative, constructed by the activist media and a disgruntled political class,” he said.

“We need the best person for the job regardless of race, gender or sexuality.”

The airing of internal Liberal tensions comes as both major parties face a knife-edge by-election in the state seat of Dunstan on Saturday.

Liberal candidate Anna Finizio has previously expressed her dismay about the conservative focus on “niche” culture wars issues.

Writing in InDaily last year, Finizio was critical of the Liberal Women’s Council’s policy focus on issues such as the teaching of “gender ideology” in schools.

“Until bodies such as the Liberal Women’s Council start speaking about issues that impact all women, like the gender pay gap and women in leadership (including gender parity in its own parliamentary party), instead of niche culture war issues, it will continue to fail to attract a diverse membership that can help the party win elections,” she wrote.

Finizio faces a tight battle to hold on to the seat won by former premier Steven Marshall in 2022 with a tiny margin of 260 votes, with local issues looming large.

While the Liberal Party has long juggled tensions between its “wets” and “dries” – moderates and conservatives – the Antic preselection campaign represents a new dynamic in the party with an emboldened hard-right faction taking more and more party prizes from the moderates.

As InDaily reported in a June 2021 exclusive, members of the Liberal right, including Antic, had successfully started a recruitment drive in conservative churches, quickly adding hundreds of like-minded members to the party’s ranks.

Part of this drive was pitched as a reaction to the moderate dominance of the Marshall government’s cabinet. One of the notable exceptions to that rule was current leader David Speirs, who encouraged church members to engage in political activism.

This story first appeared in InDaily and is republished here with permission.

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