Scott Morrison knew in January that former workplace relations minister Craig Laundy was quitting politics but kept the news hidden from voters during a fruitless search for a replacement.
Liberal Party sources confirmed on Friday that the Prime Minister has “no candidate” for the now-vacant Sydney seat of Reid, with an election due to be called within weeks.
One of former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s staunchest supporters, Mr Laundy, a millionaire pub baron, has confirmed to friends he kept his resignation quiet at the instruction of Mr Morrison’s office.
Asked why the announcement had been delayed for so long, one colleague said: “you would have to ask the Prime Minister’s office.”
But the worst-kept secret in politics was confirmed on Friday, amid reports that Mr Laundy was unhappy with Mr Morrison’s ongoing silence on the issue and the fact that he was being blamed by some within the Liberals for not declaring his hand earlier.
“I have spoken with the Prime Minister to advise him that I will not be recontesting my seat of Reid at this year’s federal election,” Mr Laundy said.
“Since 2013, it has been an absolute honour to represent the people of Reid in Canberra, as well as being assistant minister for multicultural affairs, assistant minister for industry, innovation and science and minister for small and family business, the workplace and deregulation.
“The reality of modern politics is that, more often than not, a member of parliament has to put their constituents ahead of their family, something I’ve done over the past six years.
It’s now time to focus on my family, who I have spent so much time away from.”
Mr Laundy’s mother is understood to have been unwell in recent months, with her devoted son taking time out to spend time with her when possible.
“Over the past 12 months, my family have faced a number of challenges and, as a father, husband and son, I’ve made the difficult decision to quit politics to put them first,” he said.
What Mr Laundy did not mention in his statement was his deep disillusionment at the knifing of Mr Turnbull, with whom he spent time on the night he resigned as prime minister.
Friends insist Mr Laundy told the PM months ago, during a private discussion with Mr Morrison, who urged him not to quit.
This week, former NSW deputy police commissioner Nick Kaldas confirmed he had rejected recent overtures to run in the seat.
Liberal Party sources confirmed there was “no candidate yet” but insisted a candidate will be preselected quickly.
ALP campaigners supporting their candidate, Sam Crosby, confirm they have seen no Liberal campaigners on the ground in the seat for nearly a year.
The Liberals hold Reid by a margin of 4.7 per cent.