‘Complete BS’: Abbott slaps down rumour
Former prime minister Tony Abbott has quickly shot down a rumour that his name could be put forward to run for the federal seat of Eden-Monaro, labelling it "complete bulls***".
The New South Wales seat is being vacated by Labor MP Mike Kelly for health reasons.
This week it has been the subject of extraordinary drama, with NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro and Transport Minister Andrew Constance both looking to launch campaigns for the seat, then suddenly pulling out.
This afternoon the saga took another weird turn, with Channel 9 reporting Liberal Party Vice President Teena McQueen had been "quietly sounding out options on behalf of Mr Abbott" to see whether he could make a run for the seat.
You might recall Ms McQueen from her rather infamous performance on Q&A last year.
Mr Abbott, of course, left politics after the last federal election, when he lost his old seat of Warringah to independent candidate Zali Steggall.
The former prime minister's office reacted quickly to the report, telling former 2GB broadcaster Jason Morrison it was "badly informed mischief making".
In blunter terms, his office told radio host Ben Fordham the rumour was "complete bulls***" and "utterly without foundation".
So, that's the end of that.
News.com.au asked Prime Minister Scott Morrison if he thought Mr Abbott would be interested in returning to Parliament during a Facebook live interview tonight.
"I don't believe he would," was the PM's response.
The future of Eden-Monaro is no clearer, however.
Earlier today, NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance said seeing front-page reports about him being called a "c***" in private text messages influenced his decision not to stand for federal politics.
Mr Constance withdrew from the preselection race for the federal seat of Eden-Monaro just 24 hours after putting his hand up.
He indicated the decision was made after seeing reports in The Daily Telegraph that his friend and rival in the seat, NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro, called him a "c***" in private text messages.
Mr Barilaro also wanted to run in the seat but also dropped out, partly blaming National leader Michael McCormack for not backing him. He was said to be angry after learning that Mr Constance was lobbying the NSW executive for thorough research into a three-cornered contest in the seat.
Mr Constance, who is also the state MP for Bega, said he hadn't signed up to contest a federal seat to be "called that type of smear".
"That type of white-anting doesn't just stop with that front page, it goes on and on," he told reporters today.
"When you see … your name associated with that type of language on the front page of the paper, anyone thinking about entering politics regardless of whether it's Liberal, Labor or anyone else, you know, they just think 'why would I do that?"
Mr Constance said he would stand by whoever was preselected to run in the seat but said he thought people have had "a gutful of this stuff".
"I've had a gutful of it and, you know - look, I know John (Barilaro) didn't mean it," he said.
"I just think ultimately, where's all this benefit?
"When I said politics is stuffed in this country and some of the people in it, need to have a long hard look, I meant it."
Mr Constance said he didn't think issue would get between them as mates but acknowledged it was "pretty poor".
He also apologised to anyone who he had upset or confused in the last 24 hours.
"I just want to make a difference. I want to continue to help people," he said.
"You know, I weighed it up but I didn't expect to be, you know, in many ways - what's the best way to put this? … sidelined by what I read this morning."
Mr Constance also hit back at those who wanted to criticise him for being emotionally fragile, upset and traumatised after New Year's Eve bushfires.
"They're a disgrace," he said.
Mr Constance issued a statement announcing his decision not to stand for preselection in Eden-Monaro, after his office confirmed the news to multiple media outlets this morning.
"I wish to let people know I have decided not to contest Liberal Party preselection for the seat of Eden-Monaro," Mr Constance wrote.
"I need to remain focused on the bushfire recovery and be grateful for the opportunities I already have. The community's needs at this difficult time must be the centre of the campaign.
"I appreciate people will be confused by my actions over the past couple of days, and for that I am sorry."
The withdrawal comes after comments from Mr Constance yesterday that he had a "very real passion in Eden-Monaro in me".
"People just want someone who can give it a go and I think I can bring something special given that statewide experience," he said.
Mr Constance said he wanted to head to Canberra to put several issues on the national agenda, including bushfire recovery and the COVID-19 crisis.
Mr Constance's withdrawal follows the decision by NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro not to contest the by-election for the Nationals, with both MPs vowing not to run against each other.
The NSW Nationals leader then delivered a scathing attack on Nationals federal leader and Deputy PM Michael McCormack, in a text message leaked to Sky News.
He said Mr McCormack felt threatened and his lack of support was partly behind Mr Barilaro's decision not to run in the by-election.
"Your lack of public enthusiasm for my candidacy went a long way to my final decision," Mr Barilaro wrote in the text message.
"Don't hide behind the 'members will choose the candidate rubbish' as you were the only one saying such lines.
"To feel threatened by me clearly shows you have failed your team and failed as a leader. You will never be acknowledged by me as our leader. You aren't. You never will be."
The federal seat of Eden-Monaro was vacated last week when popular Labor member Mike Kelly retired due to poor health.
Liberal senator Jim Molan and the Liberals' 2019 candidate for the seat, Fiona Kotvojs, were also believed to be considering a run in Eden-Monaro. This afternoon Molan, too, ruled himself out.
NSW Liberal Party president Philip Ruddock told AAP earlier this week he thought the party potentially "had a Melbourne Cup field" contesting the preselection.
Nominations close on Friday morning. Mayor of Bega Kristy McBain has been selected as Labor's candidate.
Originally published as 'Complete BS': Abbott slaps down rumour