25 March 2024

Andrew Constance to contest Gilmore in second bid to oust Labor's Fiona Phillips

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Andrew Constance on Malua Bay Beach

Andrew Constance will make another attempt to win the federal seat of Gilmore. Photo: Kim Treasure.

Former South Coast MP and NSW Government minister Andrew Constance will make his second attempt to win the federal seat of Gilmore after the Liberal Party selected him as their candidate over the weekend.

Mr Constance won a vote of members 80-69, defeating Paul Ell at a party meeting in Nowra on Saturday (23 March).

Mr Constance was the Member for Bega in the NSW Parliament for 19 years and served as Transport Minister before resigning to run for Gilmore in the last federal election.

In one of the tightest races in the country, he won 42 per cent of the primary vote and had a swing to the Liberals of 2.4 per cent, but lost to Labor’s Fiona Phillips by 373 votes.

Ms Phillips had won the seat in 2019 for Labor with 52.6 per cent of the vote after sitting Liberal member Ann Sudmalis retired, but Mr Constance will be hoping the razor-thin margin and mild second term blues will position him well to win the seat back for the Liberal Party.

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It’s been a bruising few years politically for the former MP, who listed his employment status on LinkedIn as “self-employed analyst” after losing his seat.

Last year he failed in a bid for a NSW Senate seat after the Liberal Party chose former state president Maria Kovacic for the role when a casual vacancy arose after Senator Jim Molan’s death.

Prior to that, he’d been involved in a brutal spat for the federal seat of Eden-Monaro after long-serving Labor Member Mike Kelly announced his resignation, prompting a by-election in 2019.

While Mr Constance and then NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro brawled over the seat, former Bega mayor Kristy McBain took it for Labor and held it with an increased margin at the 2022 federal election.

Mr Constance told media his focus would be addressing the cost of living, referencing vulnerable and isolated community members including seniors who are struggling with interest rate rises.

Mr Constance said Gilmore was part of “a great region” that was still experiencing enormous pressure in the aftermath of the 2019-20 Black Summer fires, COVID and consequent pressures on the local small business community.

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Gilmore covers the South Coast from Kiama in the north to Tuross Head and was previously considered a safe Liberal seat. It was held by Joanna Gash and then Ann Sudmalis for 23 years.

But the Liberal brand in the community was damaged by infighting after local endorsed candidate Grant Schultz (son of long-serving Liberal Member for Hume Alby Schultz) was moved aside for Warren Mundine, prompting a spat with then Prime Minister Scott Morrison who accused Mr Schultz and local branch members of bullying behaviour.

But the last minute “captain’s pick” didn’t go down well with local party members, many of whom said they would no longer campaign for the party as a result. Mr Mundine himself later described the move as “disastrous”.

Mr Constance’s opponent in the weekend pre-selection battle was Paul Ell, a 31-year-old Shoalhaven councillor who is president of the Liberal Party’s federal electoral conference in Gilmore.

Despite difficult family circumstances, Mr Ell was dux of Shoalhaven High School and graduated in law from the University of Wollongong before being joining the Young Liberals. Mr Constance said he had a bright future ahead of him in Liberal politics.

Original Article published by Genevieve Jacobs on About Regional.

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