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PM open to return of stood-down minister

Scott Morrison election campaign
Scott Morrison and local Liberal candidate Andrew Constance ignored past animosity over bushfires. Photo: AAP
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Prime Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed embattled MP Alan Tudge will return to the frontbench if the Coalition wins the federal election.

Despite Mr Morrison indicating last month that Mr Tudge would not make a comeback to cabinet, Mr Morrison said he had a place on the frontbench should he wish to do.

Mr Tudge stood down last year amid allegations of an abusive relationship with former staffer Rachelle Miller. Mr Tudge has strenuously denied the allegations, with both parties maintaining that their affair was consensual.

Mr Morrison said an independent investigation had cleared the “serious allegations” against Mr Tudge, who remains a “formal member of cabinet”.

“We have an acting education minister, but I look forward to Alan returning to the cabinet,” Mr Morrison told Sydney radio station 2GB.

However, he has refused to comment on reports that Ms Miller will receive a taxpayer-funded settlement of more than $500,000.

“That’s a private matter between Ms Miller and the Department of Finance, so that is not something that, as Prime Minister, I have visibility over,” he told news.com.au earlier.

Ms Miller did not participate in the inquiry due to concerns about its scope.

Monday’s comments followed confusion on Sunday, when Mr Morrison said Mr Tudge was “still in my cabinet”, despite being stood down.

“Mr Tudge elected to stand aside. He is still a minister, he has not resigned his commission, nor had he been dismissed,” he said on Monday.

“We’ve had an acting Education Minister in place since then. No one has been sworn in as education minister. No one has gone to the Governor-General, there’s been no resignations. We’ve been clear about that. Should Mr Tudge wish to return, I know he will. I look forward to him doing that.”

Mr Morrison began his re-election bid in regional NSW, hitting the ground running on the state’s south coast on Monday.

He spent the day campaigning in the electorate of Gilmore, an area devastated by the Black Summer bushfires, and a seat the government wants to win back, with Labor holding it by a margin of 2.6 per cent.

Joined by Liberal candidate and former NSW minister Andrew Constance, the government outlined a $40 million election commitment, prioritising road upgrades that improve safety and address maintenance backlogs.

The funding will be provided to the local Shoalhaven City Council to support road rehabilitation, resurfacing, widening and intersection upgrades to improve safety for locals and visitors to the region.

Despite animosity between the pair in the immediate aftermath of Black Summer, Mr Morrison said Mr Constance was a fierce advocate for his community and a strong part of the team.

Mr Constance said he would not sit on the sidelines.

“I am going to be fierce in my representation of the people of Gilmore. I’m not going to sit there as a wallflower,” he said.

“I’ll call it how it is, and I care about the community that I’ve lived in for most of my life.”

Mr Morrison was met with protesters in Gilmore, including some wearing Hawaiian shirts and playing the ukulele.

One said they wanted to let him know about problems in the electorate.

“There’s a whole heap of issues down here that people in Gilmore are not happy about and we’re seeing the government is not accountable for,” they said.

While the government was still trailing 47-53 two-party preferred in the latest Newspoll, Liberal campaign spokeswoman Anne Ruston said the Coalition had been clear about its achievements in office.

“We have been very transparent with the Australian public about what we did throughout the pandemic, but also very transparent about what our plan is for the future,” she said.

“The government has said often that we have not been perfect, but every time we’ve made a decision throughout the pandemic it’s with the best available information.”

– with AAP