NSW Transport Minister and Member for Bega Andrew Constance has confirmed he will contest the Liberal Party’s pre-selection for the seat of Eden-Monaro at the upcoming by-election.
The by-election follows Labor MP Mike Kelly’s resignation last week because of health issues.
Mr Constance says he will run for preselection to re-humanise politics in a bid to get politicians to connect better with the people they represent.
“By running in the national parliament, I want to put a number of issues squarely on the national agenda when it comes to recovery. There have been thousands of people left traumatised by both of these catastrophes,” he said.
“In terms of the national scene, I think what everyone in the country is looking for is change. They expect their politicians to reflect their emotions.
“I have seen people in recent days question my emotional fragility to be able to stand. I say to them ‘that is a positive, being open and connected and receptive to how people are feeling is very important’”.
Mr Constance shot to national prominence for his emotional and poignant demeanour during last summer’s bushfires which tore through the South Coast. He spoke at length about the trauma he experienced after almost losing his house at Malua Bay.
It was an experience he is using to shape his electoral platform and policy.
“I think it is important that we actually look at how we establish a pathway moving forward with a national response to trauma when it comes to national disasters,” he said.
“There is no doubt that being disillusioned with politics is a healthy thing for someone in my shoes. I have experienced it, I have admitted the political approach I took before the fires was terrible. I was scripted, I was trying to turn up and give a scripted answer. That is a dehumanised approach to what needs to happen here.
“I am going to be myself. People are going to get the Andrew Constance that likes to have a beer and hang out with his mates. When you go through what I went through earlier this year, you tend to lose your filter.”
If he wins Liberal Party pre-selection, it could set up an icy meeting with Scott Morrison after he said the Prime Minister “got what he deserved” when he was heckled in the streets of Cobargo after the bushfires.
However, Mr Constance has said both men are only looking forward to how they can best serve the electorate.
“There is no doubt that we all learned from the bushfires. It was great that the prime minister apologised to me at the time and he and I both share this incredible passion around how we can improve Eden-Monaro and how we can improve the country,” he said.
“Someone like me, I will speak my mind, I have no hesitation.”
During the bushfires, Mr Constance flagged that he would retire from politics once the recovery period was over, but did not set a time frame, saying it could take ‘years’. When asked by reporters what changed in the last two months, the state minister confirmed that he made the decision to go federal in the best interests of the community he serves.
“I had a lot of people say to me ‘don’t go’ when I made that statement, ‘we need you to be part of recovery’, and absolutely, I could not turn my back on the communities that I am seeking to represent. There are too many [people] hurt by this. We have broken people.”
His state Coalition colleague and Deputy Premier John Barilaro paved the way for Mr Constance to run yesterday (4 May) when he announced he would not contest the seat, previously saying that he would not go up against his friend if Mr Constance decided to run.
It has cleared the way for a two-horse race with former Bega Valley Shire Mayor Kristy McBain, who is running for the Labor Party.
Mr Constance has not resigned his cabinet role as Transport Minister but is expected to do so in the coming days. Nominations for Liberal pre-selection close on Friday.