Liberals in Victoria and New South Wales are bracing for a fierce contest to fill two new Senate positions arising from Scott Morrison’s decision to appoint MPs to plum overseas postings.
Announcing his new frontbench on Sunday, Morrison created room in his cabinet by appointing Mitch Fifield to the role of ambassador to the United Nations and Arthur Sinodinos to the role of US ambassador.
The move opens up two new Senate vacancies, with jostling already underway in the state branches in Victoria and NSW to fill the positions.
On Monday, Sarah Henderson, who failed to win the seat of Corangamite in the 18 May election, announced she would put her hand up for the casual vacancy in Victoria.
“I believe I have much to offer the people of Victoria as a Victorian Liberal senator,” Henderson said, pledging to base herself in the Geelong region if successful. “Regional Victoria, with its diverse industries, agricultural produce and unique environment, is so important to the prosperity of our state.”
Henderson is believed to have the backing of the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, and support from conservatives, but is likely to face competition from other high-profile candidates.
Conservative Karina Okotel, a vice-president of the party who was a leading campaigner against legalising same-sex marriage, is also touted as a possible contender, along with former state MP John Pesutto and Macnamara candidate Kate Ashmor.
The jostling for endorsement is likely to be influenced by deep factional divisions in the state, which has seen a realignment following the departure of former state president Michael Kroger.
In NSW, the departure of Sinodinos will open up a vacancy for a three-year term, with former MP Fiona Scott, Gilmore candidate Warren Mundine and dumped senator Jim Molan named as possible replacements.
Former Liberal party deputy state director Richard Shields and moderate-aligned Kent Johns are also in the mix, with a plebiscite of state council to decide the result.
Malcolm Turnbull’s son in law, James Brown, is also a contender.
New Labor leader Anthony Albanese accused Morrison of arrogance for making the overseas appointments.
“For prime minister Morrison to give two jobs for the boys out at his first press conference announcing the ministry is hubris and is arrogant and I think it will be seen as such,” Albanese said. “I also think it’s a great mistake to lose talent, particularly Arthur Sinodinos.”