The NSW Liberals are fighting to select Marise Payne’s replacement in the Senate after the moderate frontbencher bowed out of politics after 26 years.
Her faction is split between ousted MP Dave Sharma, who failed in 2022 to retain his Sydney seat of Wentworth against “teal” independent Allegra Spender, and former NSW treasurer Andrew Constance.
Mr Constance previously missed out on the Senate vacancy left by the death of Jim Molan, with the state branch backing another moderate in Maria Kovacic.
Largely considered a frontrunner, Mr Constance is being told not to count his chickens before they hatch despite being backed by Ms Payne and her husband, former NSW minister Stuart Ayres, one moderate Liberal said.
There is a greater shift in the moderate faction this time around compared to the Kovacic-Constance contest, the insider said.
The faction will meet on Friday.
But the selection of now Senator Kovacic for the seat left by Mr Molan, a conservative, could give rise to a deal that installs a member of the right.
The deciding factor is likely to come down to centre-right faction powerbroker Alex Hawke.
Former ACT senator and Morrison minister Zed Seselja – who lost his seat to independent David Pocock – is also reportedly looking for a resurrection.
But the staunch conservative is unlikely to get the votes with the centre-right and moderates often working together to block far-right candidates.
Mr Seselja’s move to flip jurisdictions and his hard-right views at odds with a largely progressive ACT – that many see as a reason for his ousting to a progressive independent – have also angered internal party members.
“Zed seat shopping to represent a state he has never lived in is a real Kristina Keneally look,” one senior ACT Liberal said, referring to the former Labor premier’s failed bid to secure a lower house seat after being parachuted into a Western Sydney electorate.
“The bloke took over and hollowed out the ACT division then promptly lost its only federal spot.”
Ms Payne’s replacement will be selected by the end of November.