Prime Minister Scott Morrison has backed a move by the New South Wales transportation secretary Andrew Constance to leave state politics to contest Gilmore’s federal seat.
“I warmly welcome Andrew Constance’s decision to seek approval to join our federal Liberal team as our Liberal candidate for Gilmore,” Morrison said.
“Andrew has an excellent local reputation and has a lot to offer at the federal level, especially given his experience in the NSW government. He tells it honestly and would be a great member of our team.”
Constance’s decision to leave state politics narrows the field in the race for NSW’s prime minister after Gladys Berejiklian resigned and continues a dramatic few days ahead of the NSW government.
“After nearly 20 years serving in the NSW Parliament, I made the decision today to nominate for local pre-selection for Gilmore’s federal seat,” Constance said in a statement.
“There has been a lot of speculation in recent weeks, but I will be resigning this week as Minister of Transport and Roads and by the end of the year as a member of Bega.
“Like so many of us, I am heartbroken for my old friend Gladys Berejiklian. By retiring from the state cabinet and NSW parliament, I will give a new leader the opportunity to fill this position,” he said.
This is the second attempt in as many years by Constance to break into federal politics and follow his failed attempt to run to Eden-Monaro.
Constance’s announcement puts a leading moderate out of the race for prime minister and helps clear the way for conservative Dominic Perrottet, who is running with moderate Matt Kean as his deputy.
Rob Stokes, the planning minister, is still considered the most likely challenger.
Stokes has argued that he possesses “the right balance of experience, vision and integrity” necessary to take on the role at such a pivotal time.
Perrottet got a big boost on Saturday, when Howard released a statement of support.
“A number of talented MPs have been presented as [Berejiklian’s] replacement [but] I hope Dominic Perrottet becomes the new Liberal leader, and thus the next Prime Minister of NSW,” Howard said in a statement.
“He has the intelligence, experience and commitment to reform that the state needs right now.”
The state treasurer, Perrottet, has been cultivating high regard for months as rumors mounted that Berejiklian could be forced to leave due to the lingering uncertainty surrounding the Icac investigations.
During a Covid-19 update on Sunday, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said both Stokes and Perrottet would make outstanding prime ministers.
“They are both caring and compassionate people with amazing skills,” Hazzard said. “They would do great, one of them would do great. If there is another candidate, we will look at them too, but at the moment they are the two candidates.”
Hazzard paid tribute to Berejiklian and said it was sad that she had to resign under such circumstances. He believed that Icac’s model may need to be changed, but said it was not the government’s focus.
“What I would say about the Prime Minister is that I think she has been a great Prime Minister, a person of high integrity and someone I would rely on completely and I think the community of NSW has done just that during these past years. 20 months,” he said. “It’s just really sad that it’s come to this.”
Chief medical officer Dr Kerry Chant said the Prime Minister had “worked tirelessly since the pandemic began”.
“I think her clear commitment to the community is so obvious and I don’t think it’s really appropriate for me to go into other matters, but just to acknowledge how… committed the Prime Minister has been,” she said. .
Another who would consider fleeing was State Attorney General Mark Speakman.
“I have been strengthened by the encouragement I have received from colleagues to nominate and I will have more to say tomorrow,” he said on Saturday.
Jobs Secretary Stuart Ayres is another potential candidate, while Environment Secretary Kean and Police Secretary David Elliott are listed as possible deputies.
Constance’s decision to run for Gilmore in the next federal election could help Liberals take back the NSW South Coast seat, after Labor’s Fiona Phillips took it in the last election.
Constance currently represents Bega’s state seat.
Whoever takes the job as prime minister is likely to face challenging access to leadership, with NSW preparing to emerge from a three-month Covid-19 lockdown, which has put significant strain on the state’s economy and has raised questions about the health system’s ability to increase likely cases.
They will also face questions about whether Berejiklian’s personal popularity will translate into a new leader. The outgoing prime minister acknowledged as much as she did announced her resignation on Friday, saying it “couldn’t happen at a worse time”.
On Saturday, voters flocked to her home and office with flowers and balloons, while others put up handmade signs.
Berejiklian announced her resignation as prime minister on Friday after the corruption watchdog of the state revealed the 51-year-old was being investigated for possible breaches of public trust.
The Icac said it is investigating whether she “performed public functions” in a conflict situation, given her secret five-year relationship with ex-MP Daryl Maguire.
Tearful and at times angry, Berejiklian said on Friday she had “no choice” but to resign, but denied any wrongdoing.
She will also resign from parliament as soon as a by-election can be held for her seat from Willoughby on Sydney’s lower north coast.