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Minister: Government 'deserves an uppercut' over by-election antics

Politics

A senior federal Nationals MP admits the coalition “deserves an uppercut” for the conduct of its politicians in the race for Eden-Monaro preselection.

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NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance this week engaged in an ugly war of words with Deputy Premier John Barilaro and withdrew from the contest only 24 hours after seeking preselection for the NSW South Coast seat.

Nationals deputy leader David Littleproud admitted the situation was unbecoming.

“Self-indulgence on any level is not accepted by the Australian people, nor should it be. We deserve an uppercut. You have a look at yourself, you dust yourself off and get back to basics. We can’t sugarcoat it, that’s the truth,” Littleproud told ABC TV on Friday.

At least two candidates look set to battle for preselection including the 2019 election Liberal candidate, Fiona Kotvojs, who has confirmed her nomination to AAP.

Ms Kotvojs is the Liberal frontrunner after narrowly losing in 2019 to Labor’s Mike Kelly, who vacated Eden-Monaro last week due to ill health.

Former navy seaman Jerry Nockles told AAP he was also considering a Liberal tilt.

Constance was this week axed from his position as Leader of the House in NSW, with Attorney-General Mark Speakman reportedly taking his place.

“He indicated already that he wants to spend his time in his community, he has a very big portfolio in transport, so it stands to reason that he no longer had that responsibility,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters on Friday.

Constance changed his mind about nominating for preselection after it was reported Mr Barilaro used a crude word to describe him to colleagues.

Constance said he didn’t sign up for “that type of smear”.

Barilaro announced on Monday he wouldn’t be running for the Nationals and on Friday insisted he and Constance remained on friendly terms.

He refused to confirm he’d used the four-letter epithet to describe Constance.

“I’m making no comment around what it was. Andrew and I are in a really good place, we’re mates, and we’ll look forward now to moving beyond Eden-Monaro,” Barilaro told 2GB.

“In politics a lot is said, a lot is done, but Andrew and I come out the back of the week still as mates and that’s the most important part for me.”

Former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce on Friday said Barilaro was the Coalition’s best hope for winning the seat and encouraged him to reconsider his position.

But Barilaro said there was “no way” he would change his mind.

Former Liberal MP for Eden-Monaro Gary Nairn, who lost the seat to Kelly in 2007, said the Nationals’ decision to run a candidate in the 2019 federal election, “splitting resources quite substantially”, was the reason Kotvojs didn’t win.

“Given that the National Party have never won this seat in 120 years and got seven per cent of the vote last year, how can you expect the Liberal Party to step aside?”

He noted the coalition’s indecision would benefit Labor.

“The only people really winning out of it is potentially our opposition,” Nairn told ABC RN.

Nairn said he understood up to four people could put their hand up for preselection when nominations for the Liberal Party close on Friday morning.

Liberal senator Jim Molan on Wednesday revealed he wasn’t interested in a potential move to the lower house in Eden-Monaro and wouldn’t nominate for preselection.

Bega mayor Kristy McBain is Labor’s candidate for the by-election.

-AAP

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