Nyunggai Warren Mundine emerges as front runner for Liberal Senate spot

Save articles for later

Add articles to your saved list and come back to them any time.

Prominent No campaigner and Indigenous leader Nyunggai Warren Mundine is shaping as the front runner to replace moderate senator Marise Payne when she retires from politics, with powerbrokers hoping the former ALP president can unite the conservative wing of the Liberal Party.

With Liberal MPs anticipating Payne, a senator for NSW and the former foreign minister, will exit politics in the coming months, Mundine did not rule out the prospect of running for the vacancy when contacted by this masthead.

Nyunggai Warren Mundine looms as the frontrunner should Marise Payne quit the Senate.Credit: Trevor Collens

After serving as president of the ALP for six years until 2012, Mundine’s political fortunes have soared as the No campaign has established a commanding lead ahead of the October 14 referendum to establish a Voice to parliament.

With nearly two-thirds of Liberal voters backing the No vote, Mundine’s advocacy against the Voice alongside Country Liberal senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price has won him plaudits among Coalition MPs and supporters.

Senior Liberal sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the party rules forbidding members speaking publicly about internal matters, said Mundine would likely garner support from conservatives, the Centre-Right, and even peel off moderate votes.

“He would be very difficult to beat. Ninety per cent of Liberal Party members hate the Voice. And he’s the public face of the campaign,” one source said.

Soon after the 2022 election loss, Payne was widely tipped to retire by the end of last year. However, she defied expectations and has remained in parliament as Peter Dutton’s shadow cabinet secretary.

Planning is now under way for her exit. Payne supported former state minister Andrew Constance in the last race to replace a senator, the late Jim Molan. He missed out to Maria Kovacic.

Payne declined to comment on Monday.

With conservatives split into at least three groups – those on the Right backing Matthew Camenzuli, those aligned with Damien Tudehope and a Centre-Right that rallies around Alex Hawke – a consensus candidate is needed.

Former foreign affairs minister Marise Payne.Credit: James Brickwood

A senior factional operative in NSW, who asked not to be named so they could speak freely about Payne’s retirement and possible replacement, said the expectation was she would quit by the end of the year.

If that happened, Mundine – who enjoyed support from Hawke in the last Senate vacancy contest – would be a strong front runner to take her place and would once more be in a position to secure the Centre-Right’s support.

“I don’t think Marise’s retirement is imminent, but she’s coming to a juncture. And Mundine would be a very credible replacement – he’s a genuine conservative, and he would be behind Dutton for example,” the source said.

“I think Mundine would unite more of the Right than any other candidate, including people like Angus Taylor and Alex Hawke.

“Someone like Constance is just too left wing.”

The source said the Centre-Right and Moderate factions – which were once closely aligned – had begun working together again after the 2023 state election loss to install their candidates in party positions, and as a result of the Right faction fracturing.

While noting the candidacy of Constance, a former minister and moderate in the NSW Coalition, one powerbroker said the faction was not opposed to the elevation of Mundine.

“Everyone likes Warren,” he said.

Asked whether he planned to run for the vacancy once Payne retired, Mundine said: “I hadn’t really thought about it because I’ve been focusing on this campaign.”

Nyunggai Warren Mundine as the Liberal candidate for Gilmore in Shellharbour during the 2019 federal election. Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

Mundine declined multiple opportunities to categorically rule out the prospect of nominating.

It will be Mundine’s second tilt at entering federal parliament, after he was anointed by Scott Morrison to run for the Liberal Party in the NSW South Coast seat of Gilmore at the 2019 federal election.

The move backfired when Labor MP Fiona Phillips defied a national swing against the party to pick up the seat.

The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.

Most Viewed in Politics

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article