Former Liberal Party state president Maria Kovacic will enter the Senate after winning a preselection for the party’s vacancy on Saturday.
Kovacic edged out former NSW treasurer and transport minister Andrew Constance in the vote, winning 287-243.
About 700 Liberal Party members packed out the Fullerton Hotel in Sydney on Saturday morning for the preselection vote to replace the late senator Jim Molan, who died in January aged 72 after a months-long battle with prostate cancer.
Six candidates contested the spot including former Lindsay MP Fiona Scott, Shepherd Centre executive David Brady, Lowy Institute researcher Jess Collins and Space Industry Association of Australia chief executive and ex-army officer James Brown.
Kovacic, a member of the Moderate faction, resigned as the NSW Liberal president last month to nominate for the Senate spot.
In her speech to party members, Kovacic spoke about her Croatian heritage and how her father fled Europe as a refugee.
She also talked up the importance of childcare, home ownership and economic management.
Kovacic was able to cobble together large sections of support among the Moderate and Centre-Right factions.
It was feared within her camp that her short stint as the state president could have worked against her, but she was able to convince enough Moderates to stick with her.
Federal Liberal deputy leader Sussan Ley said Kovacic was a “formidable woman and a fitting replacement for the late, great Major-General Jim Molan”.
“Maria is not just a community leader in western Sydney, she is an accomplished businesswoman with more than 20 years of experience across the commercial, public and not-for-profit sectors,” she said.
“As deputy leader of the Liberal Party, one of my key priorities has been to get more women elected into our party room as quickly as possible. The only way we can address – and rectify – the gender imbalance in our parliamentary ranks is by preselecting more women and I am thrilled that my home division, the NSW branch, has chosen to do that today.
“Maria understands what it is like to start and grow a business in western Sydney, to take a risk, to employ staff, and to manage the challenges of running your own enterprise.”
Kovacic has run a financial services business in western Sydney and co-founded Western Sydney Women and Western Sydney Executive Women.
No candidates from the Right faction contested the ballot.
Molan would have ordinarily been replaced by a member of his Right faction, and earlier this year it appeared that Catholic Schools NSW chief executive Dallas McInerney was the frontrunner to fill the vacancy.
Constance, a former state transport minister and treasurer, received an endorsement from former premier Gladys Berejiklian and had the support of former foreign minister Marise Payne.
He put his name forward under a deal with sections of the Right whereby he would give up the spot in 18 months and run for the lower house seat of Gilmore for a second time.
There were mixed views within both factions about how this would be viewed by voters.
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