Barnaby Joyce’s political resurrection faces a new threat with National Farmers’ Federation president Fiona Simson being urged to run as an independent in the seat of New England.
The first female president of the NFF, Ms Simson could force Mr Joyce to fight for his seat as he plots a return to the Nationals’ leadership.
Her potential candidacy has been discussed by crossbench independent MP Cathy McGowan and former independent Tony Windsor.
Ms Simson has been repeatedly courted to enter politics, but has made no decisions, with Labor predicting it would be a “big call” to run against Mr Joyce.
If she decides to run, Ms Simson would join the growing ranks of female independent candidates. They include Kerryn Phelps, who won the former safe Liberal seat of Wentworth, left vacant after Malcolm Turnbull’s was deposed as prime minister.
The New Daily understands Liberal MP Julia Banks is also in talks with independents about whether she will stand for re-election as an independent in the Victorian seat of Chisholm after quitting the Liberals at the end of her current term.
Ms Simson is a high-profile supporter of Catherine Marriott, whose accusations of sexual harassment forced Mr Joyce to quit the Nationals leadership in February.
Underlining her support, Ms Marriott was in Canberra last week as master of ceremonies at an event for the Nationals Farmers’ Federation.
Ms Marriott was also seen dining with deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek.
Ms Simson publicly declared her support for Mr Joyce’s accuser in February, accusing the Nationals of mishandling the complaint.
“Catherine Marriott is undeniably one of the most fair dinkum people I know,” Ms Simson said at the time.
“She is generous, passionate and honest.
“Whatever she says goes. Hugely courageous.
“She wanted to give the Nats a chance to sort it out and they leaked it”.
Mr Joyce has repeatedly condemned the harassment allegations against him as “spurious and defamatory”.
Last week, he lashed out by accusing his critics of using the scandal to stop him returning to the leadership.
“It wasn’t proved,” Mr Joyce said.
“Why do people keep throwing it out there?” he asked on ABC radio.
When host Fran Kelly responded that the complaint had not been disproved either, Mr Joyce said: “It doesn’t work like that – if I can’t prove that you [didn’t rob] a bank, then it doesn’t prove ipso facto that you did.”
Ms Simson declined to comment on any discussions to enter politics as an independent.