Scott Morrison has endorsed Warren Mundine as “a top bloke” amid moves to parachute the former ALP president into the ultra-marginal NSW seat of Gilmore.
Mr Mundine, a businessman who has championed self-determination and Aboriginal businesses to create jobs, is not yet a member of the Liberal Party. He was also Labor’s national president from 2007 to 2008.
Mr Mundine has strong ties with former prime minister Tony Abbott as he was appointed his indigenous adviser.
He is now set to be endorsed as the Liberal candidate in Gilmore after the party’s NSW branch commissioned polling that showed he would perform strongly.
The New Daily understands Mr Mundine outgunned sitting MP Ann Sudmalis and the man who beat her in a local preselection, real estate agent Grant Schultz.
On Tuesday, the NSW Liberal state executive voted 16-1 not to endorse Mr Schultz as the candidate, a move that clears the way for Mr Mundine to enter the race.
— 𝕤𝕒𝕞𝕒𝕟𝕥𝕙𝕒 𝕞𝕒𝕚𝕕𝕖𝕟 (@samanthamaiden) January 22, 2019
Beginning to think Morrison is an agent of destruction for the Liberal Party … Grant Schultz will win Gilmore as an Independent . Mundine will never see preferences from Labor
— Tony Windsor (@TonyHWindsor) January 22, 2019
Mr Schultz, who is the son of veteran Liberal MP Alby Schultz, announced he would stand as an independent, saying the rights of local party members had been ignored.
“I cannot be a member of a party that does not support democracy or act with integrity,” he said.
“The prime minister has stated that he believes in a fair go. He has not given me that.”
Labor is targeting the seat, which was held by Ms Sudmalis by a margin of 0.73 per cent.
While the Prime Minister stopped short of confirming the moves, he pointedly praised Mr Mundine’s credentials before the executive vote and said he would have more of the say in the future.
“I think Warren Mundine’s a top bloke, I do,” he said in Cooktown.
“I think Warren Mundine’s got a lot to offer, and I’ve been a friend of Warren for some time. I think he’s a great bloke.
“Look, Ann Sudmalis has done a great job, and I want to see more female candidates. I’m going to be working hard as the leader of the Liberal Party to achieve that in the future. It’s certainly my intention to ensure that we have the plans in place, with me as Liberal leader, to ensure we have even greater female representation in the future.”
But Labor moved swiftly to weaponise Mr Mundine’s support for nuclear power.
“He was unsuccessful in the Labor Party. It’s a free country. Run for whatever party will have you,” Labor leader Bill Shorten said.
“I do make this point about the seat of Gilmore. The Liberal Party replaced a woman with a man, and a man who wants to put nuclear reactors into Australia, including Jervis Bay. I don’t think they get how everyday Australians think.”
Mr Mundine previously sought preselection or the ALP in 2004 in the Western Sydney seat of Fowler and has run on the Senate ticket.
But he left the Labor Party disillusioned about its failure to preselect an Aboriginal to a winnable seat.
“But they have never put an Aboriginal person in a winnable seat. And the way they are going, they never will,” he said.
“I’ve had people say to me, ‘We care about this’, but their actions speak louder than their words. They don’t care.
“And Aboriginal people are waking up to it because, let’s be honest, whoever thought Aborigines would be elected to the Northern Territory parliament under a Conservative banner? But that’s what happened at the election earlier this year: They got four Aborigines in the parliament, all of them conservative.”
Mr Mundine has also spoken of the impact of his ALP presidency on his first marriage.
“I never thought of myself as a bloke who was attractive to women but after I became president [of the ALP] it was like I became sexy to some people,” he said.
“If you look at pictures of me back then, I was 30 kilograms heavier, so I don’t really get it. But I was getting offers. And the ego got the better of me and I took one of those offers, and I got what I deserved, which was a divorce.”
His first wife told The Australian: “I think he has sold out his family and his culture. I think he gave up his good Aboriginal wife and kids so he could do that.”
Earlier on Tuesday, NSW Liberal executive members confirmed they were marshalling the numbers at the instruction of Mr Morrison to dump Mr Schultz.
“He’s been angling for a seat for a long time. His polling is good. It’s better than anyone else’s,” a Liberal source said.
“The PM is a marketing guy. He does the polling and works out what to do next. “
The New Daily has contacted Mr Schultz for comment.