The deputy leader of the NSW Nationals, Paul Toole, has thrown his hat in the ring to replace outgoing leader John Barilaro, meaning at least a two-way contest for the job.
Mr Toole said his three years as deputy made him the best choice to lead the party in NSW, and take over as the state’s deputy premier.
The NSW government will have an entirely fresh leadership team by Wednesday, after Mr Barilaro announced on Monday he was following former premier Gladys Berejiklian out the door.
Dominic Perrottet has emerged as the state’s new Premier, after a Liberal party-room vote on Tuesday. He was sworn in on Tuesday afternoon, while the Nationals will appoint their new leader on Wednesday.
Water Minister Melinda Pavey was the first to put her hand up for the job on Monday, but Mr Toole is also eyeing a promotion.
After taking 24 hours to consider his position and talk to colleagues, Mr Toole, the MP for Bathurst, said on Tuesday he wanted the top job.
“This is a time where we need a strong and stable leadership [as] we are coming out of a pandemic,” he said.
He talked up his credentials as deputy party leader, and pointed to his track record of working with the incoming Premier in crisis cabinet and other committees.
When announcing his surprise decision to step down, Mr Barilaro said NSW would be best served by someone who had the passion and fight to forge on.
“I just don’t have the energy anymore,” he said on Monday.
The Nationals leader said he had been “thinking about this for a while”, and ruled out running for federal parliament.
“I’m looking for a new career. I turn 50 in November, maybe a bit of a midlife crisis, but definitely thinking about what happens next. I will take some time out, but I genuinely won’t be running for federal politics,” the Monaro MP said.
But while Mr Barilaro’s colleagues paid tribute to him as a tireless advocate for the bush, Opposition Leader Chris Minns described him as selfish.
“It is putting personal ambition and a next career-move first,” he said.
Mr Barilaro could better serve the community from the back bench while the health crisis continued, Mr Minns argued.
A Nationals party-room meeting has been called for Wednesday, when Mr Barilaro will formally resign and call for a ballot for a new leader.
Once that is settled, he will work with the Speaker and the Electoral Commission to determine a date for a byelection in his seat of Monaro.