Jostling for NSW Senate vacancy as Andrew Constance, Fiona Scott eye run

A factional war is brewing in NSW over the Senate vacancy created by the death of Jim Molan, with moderate former Liberals MPs Andrew Constance and Fiona Scott preparing to run against conservative frontrunner Dallas McInerney.

Former Liberal MPs Dave Sharma, Fiona Martin and Lucy Wicks and ex-political staffers Gisele Kapterian and Mary-Lou Jarvis have also been discussed for the casual vacancy.

The death of Jim Molan could spark a factional war over his Senate vacancy.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

Former prime minister Tony Abbott has also been calling Liberal party members to test support for a possible return to federal parliament, though this outcome is considered highly unlikely.

The growing field of potential candidates was conveyed to this masthead by about 10 federal and NSW Liberal sources, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private considerations.

Molan’s replacement is unlikely to be named until late April or even early May, because of the looming state election in March and the Easter holidays in April, which opens up the prospect of a months-long battle for the seat.

Former NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance is preparing to run for the Senate vacancy.Credit:Renee Nowytarger

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet, a leading figure of the Liberals’ right faction, does not want the party tearing itself apart over this before the election, a Liberal source said, describing Molan’s vacant seat as a “prized piece of political real estate”.

NSW Treasurer Matt Kean, who has developed a national profile due in part to his activism on climate change policies, has also been floated as a nominee by some supporters. He is said to have federal ambitions, but several Liberal party MPs said it was more likely he could target the lower house seats of Bradfield or North Sydney. He has privately rubbished suggestions he could run for the Senate.

He is also considered the frontrunner to take over as leader from Perrottet if the Liberals lose the state election, which polls indicate is a possibility.

Molan, an army major general-turned-senator, was a member of the Liberals’ conservative faction and the seat would typically be handed to someone like McInerney, a member of the same faction who currently runs Catholic Schools NSW.

“I am definitely interested. I will be considering my options”: Former Liberal MP Fiona Scott.Credit:Brook Mitchell

But moderate faction figures Constance, who was transport minister in the NSW government before an unsuccessful tilt at the federal seat of Gilmore, and Scott, a former federal member for Lindsay, will try to win the seat.

Constance has told colleagues that while the seat technically belongs to the party’s right faction, he will contest the spot to try and grow the party’s representation in regional areas and help it recapture the southern NSW seats of Eden-Monaro and Gilmore.

Scott, meanwhile, told this masthead that “the preselection is a long way off and when nominations open I am definitely interested. I will be considering my options”.

Former Foreign Minister Marise Payne is digging in and is unlikely to quit politics.Credit:James Brickwood

She believes the federal branch of the party must rebuild itself following the disastrous May 2022 result and must get more women into parliament, in line with the recommendations of the party’s post election review.

Further complicating the contest is the future of moderate NSW senator Marise Payne and the outcome of the state election.

Despite reports to the contrary, close allies of Payne say the former foreign minister is unlikely to retire in the near term, and expressed unhappiness at a whispering campaign that suggested her retirement was imminent.

“Marise has dug in,” a source said.

Scott, like Payne, is a moderate Liberal woman based in Western Sydney and if McInerney wins the pre-selection it would strengthen her push to take a future vacancy.

Conversely, if Constance were to win the Molan vacancy it would increase the likelihood of a conservative challenge to Liberal moderate senator Andrew Bragg ahead of the next federal election.

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