Factions retain grip on SA ALP after challengers trounced

State Labor’s factions have retained their grip on party preselections after the first internal ballot to give rank and file members a greater say on parliamentary candidates.

The ALP’s first SA preselection process to give ordinary members the same influence on the outcome as union and sub-branch delegates saw regional councillor and former state and federal candidate Ben Browne challenge for one of four winnable spots on the party’s Upper House ticket, while Tea Tree Gully councillor Brett Rankine ran against the Left-faction-endorsed Rhiannon Pearce in the northern suburbs seat of King.

The process erupted in controversy this week when party officials determined to only count any rank-and-file votes as a proportion of those eligible – a position at odds with that of Labor leader Peter Malinauskas, who drove the reforms before he entered parliament.

While the ballots are yet to be declared, unofficial figures seen by InDaily suggest both Browne and Rankine have fallen short in their bids – and significantly for the party, would have failed to win preselection on either interpretation of the new rule.

Left-aligned incumbents Kyam Maher and Ian Hunter were returned, along with the Right’s Tung Ngo while factional boss Reggie Martin, the party’s current state secretary, will enter parliament for the first time.

Martin polled strongly in the delegates and union votes, but finished fourth in the rank and file component.

Browne finished last in each category, falling 12 votes behind Martin in the rank and file ballot, 307 to 319.

It’s understood Rankine similarly failed to convince King branch members to back him, finishing with seven votes to Pearce’s 31 in the rank and file ballot.

Browne wasn’t permitted to comment on the result until it’s declared, but said the rank and file “have certainly been pleased with the engagement that’s happened”.

“It’s been a great process for the party to have MPs and potential MPs engaging with the rank and file,” he said.

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St George Illawarra Dragons trounced by Warriors in NRL return, putting Ben Hunt in the firing line again

Ben Hunt has one of the biggest contracts in the NRL and some weeks it looks like every cent of that $6 million is hanging around his neck.

That seemed to be the case as the halfback struggled in the Dragons’ 18-0 loss to the Warriors in their return to rugby league after a two-month-long sabbatical forced by coronavirus.

St George Illawarra finished just 34 of their 41 sets, made to look worse by the Warriors’ gargantuan 46/48 effort, and made at least nine errors.

The Dragons’ attack barely troubled the Warriors and on the few occasions when it did, a dropped ball, wayward kick or mistimed pass was not far away.

Dragons coach Paul McGregor said “the intensity that we’ve trained at is not transferring to game day”, although a training run is a pretty decent description of the game the Dragons played.

On Fox Sports after the game, former superstar halfback Cooper Cronk criticised Hunt and five-eighth Corey Norman’s ability to adapt to the game that was in front of them, suggesting the team appeared to be going through the motions.

Hunt’s performances are always viewed through the lens of the contract the Dragons handed him in 2018.(AAP: Dave Hunt)

Hunt spent most of the game hobbled by a corked shin. But as the team’s halfback and million-dollar man, all eyes are on him every time he sets foot on the field.

Since finishing in the top five of Dally M voting with the Broncos in 2014 and 2015, Hunt has looked a shadow of his former self.

He struggled in Brisbane after a confidence-sapping performance in the 2015 grand final and things have not improved much since being bought by the Dragons for a hefty price tag prior to the 2018 season.

Hunt has run hot and cold in red and white but remains a regular in Test and State of Origin sides, albeit in different positions.

‘They don’t have time to worry about what they’re paying him’: Ennis

The Dragons boast one of the league’s best hookers in Cameron McInnes, so there are not too many opportunities in the starting side, leading former New South Wales dummy half Michael Ennis to propose a bold solution.

“I think it would be great for Ben Hunt and for his confidence to be allowed to grow if he got taken out of that number seven jersey,” he said on Fox.

James Maloney, for the Blues, runs away from the Maroons' Ben Hunt.
Hunt (centre) has come off the bench and played starting hooker for Queensland.(AAP: Julian Smith)

“The role that he can play for the Dragons is to play in that number 14 jersey and maybe put Corey Norman at halfback.”

Ennis, himself a former Dragon and Bronco, said the contract that was signed could not be a factor in where Hunt plays.

The situation has become so fraught that former Maroons coach Mal Meninga even suggested shifting Hunt to fullback, a position he has never played.

McGregor, whose employment status is under similarly constant speculation, said his team often “looked like strangers out there” and said they “didn’t play with any composure” at the pointy end of the field.

He said the “passion, excitement and competitiveness needs to be shown by everyone” and it is hard to see how the team won’t make changes after the performance against the Warriors.

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