THE NSW government’s main representative in the Hunter, Scot MacDonald, is facing a preselection battle against an upper house colleague and rival, Catherine Cusack.
Although neither parliamentarian would speak on the record about their looming showdown, both confirmed that they were intending to stand for re-election in the March 2019 election.
Members of the Legislative Council are elected for eight-year terms, and various sources have confirmed that the Liberals do not expect to hold all of the upper house seats they won in the landslide that brought the Coalition to government in 2011.
This leaves both Mr MacDonald and Ms Cusack scrambling to secure winnable places on a Liberal Party upper house ticket that holds the key to their immediate political futures.
Although upper house preselections are yet to open, the Liberals have opened preselections for some lower house seats, including Port Stephens, presently held by Labor MP Kate Washington, who comfortably saw of Liberal candidate Ken Jordan in 2015.
High-profile Liberal Jaimie Abbott, who is presently on Port Stephens Council, is still expected to stand for Liberal preselection despite having a first child due at the end of October.
In what is being viewed as a move to help boost the party’s chances, the Liberals are holding their next state conference at Nelson Bay on Saturday, August 25.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian was in the electorate on June 1 when she announced a $1-million refurbishment of the heritage-listed Tea Gardens police station, an announcement that was made with Cr Abbott and Ms Cusack – who is the party’s upper house duty MLC for Port Stephens – by her side.
Mr MacDonald was first made parliamentary secretary for the Hunter in April 2015, relinquishing it in January 2017 after a reshuffle by the incoming premier, who installed Ms Cusack – described as the premier’s factional ally – in the job.
But Ms Cusack only lasted a month and nine days in the role, resigning the position after a nine-page email she sent to the premier, blasting some of her ministerial appointments, somehow found its way into the media.
Mr MacDonald got his old job back again, holding the line for the government through some difficult times, most notably the Newcastle light rail construction controversies.
Ms Cusack entered parliament in 2003 and Mr MacDonald in 2011. Liberal MLCs have either statewide – known as “at large” – positions on the upper house ticket, or the represent areas or “provinces”. Ms Cusack is understood to want to challenge Mr MacDonald’s position representing the “country north” province.