Senior figures from the moderate and conservative factions of the New South Wales Liberal party have moved to block the state transport minister, David Elliot, from mounting an 11th-hour bid to save his career by running for a spot on the party’s upper house ticket.
Elliott confirmed on Monday that he was seeking to fill the spot left vacant after the sacking of Peter Poulos, who admitted to circulating explicit photos of a female colleague during a preselection contest five years ago.
The transport minister had been forced into retirement after a redistribution left him without a seat heading into the election next month. But he told Sydney radio station 2GB on Monday that he had put his hand up for the vacancy created by the sacking of Poulos.
“I was sad to leave politics but I accepted the circumstances in which I found myself. I couldn’t see a pathway for me to return,” he said.
“Well, if this is a pathway for me to return, I certainly can confirm I’ve told the premier I would like to be considered.”
But Elliott has not received the backing of senior figures within the party. On Monday the treasurer, Matt Kean, a factional rival who most recently butted heads with Elliott during his bid to become deputy leader of the party, was blunt when asked about his attempt to remain in state politics.
“What I’d like to see is a female fill that vacancy,” Kean said. “That’s no secret. I’ve been campaigning on that front for a while and that’s what I think should happen here.”
Instead, Kean is pushing for the president of the party’s women’s council, Jacqui Munro, a moderate, to fill the spot. He was part of a phone hookup on Sunday night where it was agreed the leftwing faction would push for her to be endorsed without a preselection by the state executive.
Other names also floated on the call included the Holsworthy MP, Melanie Gibbons, who is set to retire after losing a preselection challenge, the former Young Liberals president Deyi Wu and the Shoalhaven deputy mayor and state executive member, Paul Ell.
As a member of the moderate faction, it’s likely Poulos would be replaced by another moderate.
However, while Munro is the moderates’ pick thanks to her progressive credentials, she is perhaps the toughest candidate for the conservative and centre-right factions to swallow.
The state executive was expected to vote on whether to bypass nominations and confirm her selection on Monday, but it was unclear if the moderates had the numbers to win the vote.
But even if it failed, it’s understood Elliott would face an uphill battle to win the spot. While he has the support of his own centre-right faction, rightwing party sources said it was unlikely he would have enough rank-and-file backing to win a preselection for the spot.
On Monday the premier, Dominic Perrottet, also declined to endorse Elliott, saying only that he could be “proud” of his service to parliament but that it was a “matter for the organisation” as to who replaced Poulos. It’s understood the premier is also keen to see a woman fill the spot.
It comes as the premier was asked about a complaint regarding the Camden MP, Peter Sidgreaves, over branch stacking and the alleged bullying of an electorate office employee.
“So we received that complaint [and there are] two aspects of that,” Perrottet said.
“There is absolutely no place for bullying in any workplace environment and [the allegations] need to be dealt with appropriately, independently and, in the best case scenario, confidentially.”
The issue was being dealt with by parliament’s independent complaints officer, who was appointed last year after former sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick’s inquiry into bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct in NSW parliament offices, he said.
The factional fracas comes just days after the government was caught up in another scandal when Damien Tudehope resigned as finance minister after declaring he owned shares in Transurban, the company that operates most of Sydney’s toll roads.
Australian Associated Press contributed to this report