Gladys Berejiklian approached by senior Liberals to run in federal seat of Warringah

Exclusive: Supporters of Berejiklian are confident the Icac investigation will clear her of any wrongdoing and say she would be a ‘great asset’

The outgoing New South Wales premier, Gladys Berejiklian, has been approached by senior Liberals in the state to run for the federal seat of Warringah.

Some federal MPs say Berejiklian is seriously considering the proposal to switch to federal politics, but believe she wants to wait until the investigation being undertaken by the independent commission against corruption is complete.

Supporters of Berejiklian are confident that the Icac investigation will clear her of any wrongdoing, while Berejiklian has insisted she has always acted with “integrity”.

It is understood that the prime minister, Scott Morrison, is aware of the approach to Berejiklian about Warringah, which would give the Coalition a strong chance of taking back the blue-ribbon seat, currently held by independent Zali Steggall.

Berejiklian’s state electorate of Willoughby is adjacent to Warringah, in the federal electorate of North Sydney.

Prior to Steggall’s 2019 election win, the northern beaches seat was held by former prime minister Tony Abbott for 26 years, and had not had a Liberal primary vote below 50% since 1983.

It is now held by Steggall on a 7.2% margin.

The former NSW premier, Mike Baird, had previously been touted as a potential candidate for the Liberals, but he ruled this out in April this year.

Liberal MP, John Alexander, said that Gladys Berejiklian would “be a great asset” for the party federally if she chose to run.

“I’m more thinking as a punter – what an asset she would be for the Liberal party,” he told Guardian Australia.

“You’re bringing in a very confident woman, totally on her ability, it would help to address a lack of women in the party. It would be a great thing to entice her – but she might need some time to mend.”

Other party sources said they doubted the Icac matter would be resolved in time for Berejiklian to run for the seat, pointing out that nominations opened last week. Manly barrister Jane Buncle and a former adviser to Morrison, Sasha Grebe, have indicated they will nominate in what is expected to be a hotly contested preselection.

Berejiklian declined to comment on the potential move on Monday.

The push to install Berejiklian into a key seat for the Coalition comes as the outgoing state transport minister, Andrew Constance, also indicates his intention to run for federal parliament in the south coast seat of Gilmore.

Constance faces some resistance from within the party, however, with south coast lawyer Paul Ell securing strong support of moderates in the branch to run.

On Sunday, Constance announced he would resign from the ministry and as MP for Bega, and revealed he would run in Gilmore with the backing of Scott Morrison.

Constance said he would be putting his case to members.

“I look forward to talking to the local branch members, they are the ones who decide this. I will be putting my best foot forward, not only on my record and what I have achieved in the last 18 and a half years as the state member, but more importantly what I can achieve in the future,” Constance told Guardian Australia.

Nominations for the seat open on November 1, and close on November 19.

But while the process is in train for preselection to take place, some senior party sources say an intervention will be needed to ensure Constance is preselected if Ell is not persuaded to stand aside.

They believe Constance is key to winning Gilmore from Labor, with the seat integral to the Coalition’s strategy of gaining seats in NSW to offset expected losses elsewhere.

A “factional round table” has already been set up in NSW to negotiate the outcome in a range of seats, including in the held seats of Reid, Mitchell and North Sydney where challenges to sitting MPs had emerged.

The round table includes factional representatives from state and federal parliament, the state director, Chris Stone, state president, Philip Ruddock, and Morrison’s principal private secretary, Yaron Finkelstein.

It is likely that these seats will not go to a ballot of branch members, with the party expected to blame lockdowns and the limited time before the election for the decision, and emphasising the need for “stability and certainty” around sitting members.

The party is also scouting for a conservative candidate to run in the seat of Hughes against former Liberal Craig Kelly, who shifted to the crossbench earlier this year, and will run under Clive Palmer’s United Australia banner.

The Labor MP for Gilmore, Fiona Phillips, accused the Liberals of “talking about themselves” following Constance’s announcement.

Phillips, who entered parliament in 2019 after local Liberal party members split over Morrison’s decision to parachute Warren Mundine in as the candidate, told Guardian Australia on Monday she had “seen it all before in Gilmore”.

“Just because someone nominates doesn’t mean they’ll be preselected as the candidate – that’s up to the Liberal party,” Phillips said, nodding to possible opposition to Constance.

“I think Coalition are more concerned with talking about themselves and you’ve seen that again yesterday,” she said, in reference to his resignation.

Constance’s state seat of Bega, which stretches from Batemans Bay in the north to Bega, Merimbula and Eden in the south, had a high public profile during the black summer bushfires.

Phillips’ seat of Gilmore stretches from Kiama and the Shoalhaven in the north and overlaps the Bega electorate only in the Eurobodalla shire in the south, at Batemans Bay, Mogo, Moruya and Tuross Head.

On Sunday, Constance said in a statement he wanted to continue representing his local community on issues “such as the new hospital developments, and ensuring the community is listened to on vital projects such as the Milton-Ulladulla and Moruya bypasses”.

“I love our region, its people and I could not be more proud to continue to serve. From black summer to the pandemic, we are the strongest and most resilient communities that you will ever see.”

Morrison said that Constance “has an outstanding local reputation and a great deal to offer at the federal level, especially given his experience in the NSW government … He tells it straight and would make a great member of our team.”

In 2020, Constance announced he intended to quit state politics after the bushfire recovery was complete. This is the second attempt in as many years by Constance to break into federal politics and follows his aborted attempt to run for Eden-Monaro.

The Coalition is keen to recapture both Gilmore, held by Phillips with a 2.6% margin, and Eden Monaro, held by Labor’s Kristy McBain by 0.4%.

Contributors

Sarah Martin and Paul Karp

The GuardianTramp

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