NSW National’s leader and deputy premier John Barilaro has confirmed he will not contest the federal seat of Eden-Monaro at the upcoming byelection, saying he can best serve the people in the electorate as the state member for Monaro.
Mr Barilaro was seen as a frontrunner to replace Labor’s Mike Kelly in Eden-Monaro. Last week Dr Kelly announced he would be resigning from politics because of health issues he sustained while serving in the Australian Defence Force.
Taking time to consider his options over the weekend with his family, an emotional Mr Barilaro said this morning (4 May) that he was humbled by the commentary around his possible running in Eden-Monaro, but ultimately it would not be the right thing to do.
“They have been through hell and back with the fires, COVID-19, drought, and the last thing we need is an argy-bargy about what is right for that seat,” Mr Barilaro said.
“It is emotional in a sense because for a long time you think that you might have the opportunity to contribute to the national agenda, and I can do that at the state level but this is the right thing to do. I am at peace with myself today, I am a peace with my decision.”
In announcing his decision to leave federal politics, Dr Kelly said that the new member would have to prioritise the electorate and put local issues on the national agenda on the Hill.
It seemed to be a sentiment that Mr Barilaro took into consideration when deciding not to contest the seat.
“As their state member already, my promise is that I will work for them as always, and I am humbled by my community who elected me last year,” he said.
“Those in the broader Eden-Monaro, I am going to work diligently not just as the state member, but as the deputy premier to make sure that whatever happens, that not only do we fix the issues today but that we have an incredible tomorrow.
“The issues that I have been fighting for, they do not change. I will still be a commentator on the sideline in relation to those issues federally and whoever wins Eden-Monaro, you will be held to account by me as the state member.”
Mr Barilaro was adamant he could have won the seat.
“The polling showed that I could win but sometimes in this game you let ego get in the way of good decisions and I have to make the best decision for me, my family, for the people of NSW and, more importantly, for the people of Eden-Monaro,” he said.
“When even Sportsbet had you as the favourite, the easiest decision would have been to run, but that is ego. I actually looked inside myself about what is the right decision across a whole heap of issues, not just my career but about my life, and I am at peace with my decision.”
State Liberal Member for Bega and close friend of Mr Barilaro’s, Andrew Constance – who acquired a national profile as the black summer bushfires tore through his hometown of Malua Bay – has also been touted as a possible candidate, and both men had said that they would not run against each other.
“Andrew and I were never, ever going to race against each other. We are friends from 2011 when he first found me on the campaign trail and we have bonded closer during the fires,” Mr Barilaro said.
Malua Bay, which sits between Batemans Bay and Moruya (in the neighbouring federal seat of Gilmore), was one of the regions worst-affected by the bushfires over the summer. Mr Constance managed to save his own home but has been very open about the emotional toll the summer took on himself and his community.
Both men have said they would retire from politics at the end of this term in March 2023.
Mr Kelly won the seat for Labor in 2019 on a slim margin of 1.7 per cent – or 1,685 votes.