The future of the nation’s leading bellwether seat could be in the offing as Member for Eden-Monaro Mike Kelly makes a call on whether he will remain in Federal Parliament. But who will step up to fill his place if a by-election is called?
The highly regarded ALP Member won the swing seat in 2007, lost it to Peter Hendy at the 2013 Federal election, but regained it in 2016. A former Army officer, Dr Kelly is regarded as a committed local member with widespread support.
But Dr Kelly has experienced long-running health issues as a consequence of his active service. In the past, he’s spoken about suffering renal damage from severe dehydration during military tours in Somalia, East Timor, Bosnia and Iraq. He underwent emergency surgery late last year. Sky News has reported over the weekend that Dr Kelly will make a call on his future this week.
Eden-Monaro was redistributed in 2015, losing Batemans Bay to the neighbouring seat of Gilmore but gaining traditionally more secure conservative territory from Yass to Tumut. The Liberal margin at the time of the redistribution was a notional 2.9 per cent.
However, the 2019 election results told a different story: Dr Kelly was returned for the fourth time despite a national swing against Labor of 1.9 per cent. After significant dysfunction inside Liberal ranks when Warren Mundine was installed as a last-minute candidate, local Labor candidate Fiona Phillips collected Gilmore with a 4.3 per cent swing on the coast.
The most likely Eden-Monaro contender appears to be the current Deputy Premier and Nationals Member for Monaro, John Barilaro. Seen as a moderate National with strong grassroots support, Mr Barilaro is also the minister responsible for disaster recovery, leading recovery efforts following the bushfires across NSW.
The Member for Monaro has enjoyed a meteoric rise after his 2011 election win. The former Queanbeyan City Councillor won the seat from Labor’s Steve Whan with an 8.3 point swing. He was elected unopposed as leader of the National Party in NSW in 2016.
Mr Barilaro has said in the past that he doesn’t intend to contest the next NSW State election and would stand aside from cabinet mid-term. He’s refused to comment on whether he’s intending a Federal run, citing his friendship with Dr Kelly.
“Mike is a friend of mine and I have always been focused on his health and I want him to make his decision before I make mine,” Mr Barilaro said.
It’s believed that local Liberals would support Mr Barilaro, avoiding a three-cornered contest.
There’s also speculation that Liberal senator Jim Molan could be a candidate, but he’s downplayed that possibility today. The former Major General was relegated to an unwinnable spot on the NSW joint Coalition Senate ticket in 2019 and campaigned independently of the Party.
He’s since been selected to fill the casual vacancy left by Arthur Sinodinos’s resignation. That senate term ends in 2022. It looks unlikely that Senator Molan would win Liberal Party support for a Lower House seat given the divisions engendered by the recent stoush.
Mr Molan told Region Media that his focus is on serving the people of NSW as a senator and recognising that the needs of fire-affected people in Eden Monaro are best represented in the Lower House.
“In addition, it is the local branch members of the Liberal Party in Eden-Monaro who will decide who best represents them, and that is how it will be,” he said.
NSW Transport Minister and Member for Bega Andrew Constance has also been linked to Eden-Monaro. Mr Constance has strong local support following his outspoken advocacy for the South Coast after the bushfire crisis but seems more likely to run for Gilmore. He refused today to be drawn on his plans.
But if Mr Barilaro takes a tilt in the Federal arena, who will replace him in the also marginal NSW seat of Monaro? In the 2019 NSW election, Labor won a slim majority in Queanbeyan but the remaining two-thirds of the electorate voted solidly National.
While speculation focuses on the Federal puzzle pieces, questions have been asked locally about the prospects for longtime Queanbeyan mayor Tim Overall. The son of Sir John Overall who headed the former National Capital Development Corporation, Mr Overall was mayor of the Queanbeyan City Council from 2008, administrator of the merged Queanbeyan Palerang Council, then mayor again.
He’s run on an independent ticket and has opposed political parties in local government, although he was a member of the Liberal Party in 2005-06.
“All things considered, I believe it’s best I refrain from commenting on local Federal/State politics given local government perspectives,” Mr Overall told Region Media today.
When asked directly if he would consider running for Monaro, Mr Overall said he had “been asked similar questions over the years; however, my commitment to the community remains at local government level”.