Frontrunner for Molan Senate vacancy withdraws, saying seat doesn’t need to go to a woman

The frontrunner for a hotly contested Liberal Party Senate vacancy has ruled himself out, leaving former NSW transport minister and moderate Andrew Constance as the favourite for a seat usually considered the property of party conservatives.

The right faction’s candidate, Catholic Schools NSW boss Dallas McInerney, wrote to NSW Liberal Party president Maria Kovacic and executives on Friday, saying he would be tied up with his work in education over the next 18 months.

Schools boss Dallas McInerney has ruled himself out for a Senate vacancy, leaving moderate Andrew Constance and party veteran Mary-Lou Jarvis vying for the seat.

“I cannot, at this time, privilege parliamentary ambition ahead of professional obligations,” he said in a letter obtained by the .

But in an apparent plug for south coast-based Constance, he said the vacancy should go to someone from the regions, and that it was in lower houses, rather than the Senate, that the Liberal Party needed to concentrate on boosting female representation.

Party sources, on the condition of anonymity, said factional brokers have been discussing potential deals, such as a moderate taking the seat as an interim measure before handing it back to conservatives at the next election, due before May 2025.

When contacted about whether he would run at the next election, McInerney said, “I will look at my options after 18 months”.

On Sky News this week, Constance said he would have more to say about his intentions when nominations opened. When told that sounded like a yes, he said, “it does sound like a yes”.

Constance ran for the federal seat of Gilmore in the last election and lost by fewer than 400 votes. There is speculation he might step down from the Senate at the next election and run for the lower house seat again.

The Senate spot was left vacant upon the death of conservative Jim Molan, who would ordinarily be replaced by another member of the right faction. The decision about his replacement was put off until last week’s NSW election.

Other potential candidates include former state party vice president Mary-Lou Jarvis and moderates Fiona Scott, a former western Sydney federal MP, ex-Wentworth MP Dave Sharma and former ministerial staffer Gisele Kapterian.

Jim Molan while being sworn in as a senator in November 2019.

Alex Ellinghausen

In his letter, McInerney offered what he described as “unsolicited” suggestions about the choice of candidate, saying the next election would be decided in the regions “and our representatives must reflect this electoral imperative”.

In a veiled swipe at Jarvis, who wrote a publicised letter to Kovacic in mid February to say she was the rightful heir to the Senate seat, McInerney also said “those party members who gave media comment in relation to their intentions, before Jim’s family were able to solemnify his passing, should have their ambitions heavily discounted by the membership; that is, if the claims of their own consciences are too faint to do so”.

He also dismissed Jarvis’ argument that the seat should automatically fall to her as the next endorsed candidate on the party’s 2022 NSW Senate ticket, saying that “our commitment to members’ rights cannot be transitory, if they are to mean anything at all”.

Jarvis said “unlike some, I am not a factional player”.

“I look forward to a fair contest, as opposed to a campaign played out in the media, and have no further comment,” she said.

In her letter, Jarvis argued that “denying and rebuffing a qualified and endorsed woman who has served the Party at the highest level for a sustained period must have a negative impact, not only on Liberal members and supporters, but also on women generally who already believe that the Liberal Party has a ‘women problem’” .

In his letter, McInerney said that while female representation needed to remain a priority, the Liberal Party has had better success in recruiting women to upper houses, such as the Senate and the NSW Legislative Council: “It is the House of Representatives that requires a considered and comprehensive plan for the future.”

At the time of her letter, Liberal sources privately dismissed Jarvis’s efforts as a desperate move given she had unsuccessfully sought preselection several times and was unlikely to win a party ballot to fill Molan’s spot.

Constance was contacted for comment.

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