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Speculation is mounting that former foreign minister Marise Payne will announce her retirement from politics imminently, opening the door to a hotly contested preselection for her Senate seat.
Three sources, all of whom declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter, said she had decided to leave politics after a 26-year career and would make an announcement potentially within days.
Marise Payne, then minister for foreign affairs, reacting to the invasion of Ukraine by Russia in February 2022. Credit: Steven Siewert
However, Payne did not respond to requests for comment and the NSW Liberal Party did not confirm her exit.
Another Liberal source who attended Maria Kovacic’s maiden Senate speech on Tuesday night, but was not authorised to speak publicly about the dinner, said Payne and former NSW minister Andrew Constance openly discussed her quitting politics “within a week” at a Canberra dinner.
A second source said Constance, who Payne hopes will be her successor, had indicated Payne intended to leave politics imminently.
Liberal Party conventions prevent people from speaking about preselections.
This masthead reported on Tuesday that No campaign leader Warren Mundine was a serious contender to replace Payne, and that he would likely garner support from conservatives, the Centre-Right, and even peel off moderate votes.
“He would be very difficult to beat. Ninety per cent of Liberal Party members hate the Voice. And he’s the public face of the campaign,” one source said.
Payne was widely tipped to retire by the end of last year, but she defied expectations and has remained in parliament as Peter Dutton’s shadow cabinet secretary.
Constance, who failed to take Jim Molan’s vacancy in May in another contested battle, is close with Payne and her partner, former NSW MP Stuart Ayres. He was in NSW parliament for nearly two decades.
Andrew Constance, Stuart Ayres and Payne at a Liberal Party function on March 26. Credit: Flavio Brancaleone
Constance was backed by the couple at the May preselection poll, taking votes from regional moderates.
But Kovacic prevailed after moderate powerbrokers pulled the faction’s numbers behind the former NSW Liberal president, while cutting a deal with the centre-right.
The preselection vote will prove another test for the party’s divided conservatives. If Constance wins, the NSW Right will not have a representative in the Senate.
Other potential candidates include former NSW RSL head James Brown, Jess Collins of the Lowy Institute and Gisele Kapterian of Salesforce.
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