NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance has abandoned his bid to be the Liberal candidate for the federal seat of Eden-Monaro, admitting his sudden about-face might leave many confused.
The Bega MP initially put up his hand for preselection for the NSW South Coast seat on Tuesday, only to withdraw less than 24 hours later.
“I have decided not to contest Liberal Party preselection for the seat of Eden-Monaro,” he unexpectedly announced on Wednesday morning.
“I need to remain focused on the bushfire recovery and be grateful for the opportunities I already have.”
Mr Constance, whose state electorate overlaps the federal division, had been expected to deliver Eden-Monaro back to the Coalition.
Labor’s Mike Kelly holds the seat by a 0.9 per cent margin but resigned last week for health reasons, sparking a byelection.
A date for the byelection has yet to be announced, with coronavirus restrictions predicted to cause a delay.
Mr Constance had said he wanted to put several “issues squarely on the national agenda when it comes to recovery”, including the summer’s bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The community’s needs at this difficult time must be the centre of the campaign,” he said on Wednesday.
“I appreciate people will be confused by my actions over the past couple of days and for that I am sorry.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Mr Constance cancelled a scheduled photoshoot at his NSW South Coast home with AAP, stating in a text message: “That won’t be happening sorry”.
Asked about Mr Constance’s about-face, NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro’s office on Wednesday said: “The deputy premier has just learned of this and his position hasn’t changed.”
Mr Barilaro – who had been considered a front-runner to win the South Coast seat – said on Monday he would not contest it for the Nationals.
The NSW Nationals leader then delivered a scathing attack on his federal leader, Michael McCormack, in a text message leaked to Sky News.
He said Mr McCormack – the deputy prime minister – felt threatened and his lack of support was partly behind Mr Barilaro’s decision not to run in the by-election.
Liberal senator Jim Molan and the Liberals’ 2019 candidate for the seat, Fiona Kotvojs, are also believed to be considering a run in Eden-Monaro.
Bega mayor Kristy McBain has been selected as Labor’s candidate, saying on Monday she was honoured by the endorsement.