SUSSAN Ley has emerged as a potential replacement for Sophie Mirabella in the Liberal-National cabinet to be announced by new Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Monday.
The latest bombshell in the post-election wash-up was dropped by Mrs Mirabella yesterday when she ruled herself out of a cabinet position as she fought an uphill battle in Indi to salvage her parliamentary career.
It was just one week ago that Mr Abbott promised Indi voters that if re-elected, Mrs Mirabella would be in his cabinet.
With the Indi result not expected to be known until the middle of next week — Mrs Mirabella was trailing independent Cathy McGowan by 1100 votes last night — she cleared the way for Mr
Abbott to get on with the job of finalising his first cabinet team.
Ms Ley, who has held on to her seat of Farrer with an increased majority, has suddenly been talked about as a possible replacement for her Liberal colleague.
Mr Abbott is under pressure to promote more women into his cabinet with only Mrs Mirabella and Julie Bishop part of the shadow cabinet before the Coalition’s landslide victory last Saturday.
Ms Ley joined the Parliament at the same time as Mrs Mirabella in 2001.
In the Howard government Ms Ley was parliamentary secretary for children and youth affairs from 2004-06, then parliamentary secretary to the agriculture minister from 2006-07.
In opposition she has held six different shadow portfolios under different leaders.
Last night she played down her chances of being promoted from the outer ministry to cabinet.
“I would be delighted to continue with the roles in employment participation, childcare and early childhood learning but would be as happy serving in whatever area our new Prime Minister has in mind,” Ms Ley said.
Mr Abbott had paid tribute to Ms Ley’s performance in opposition on election eve.
“If there is a change of government, Sussan will be on the front bench,” he said.
Other women in contention for cabinet are West Australian Michaelia Cash and Victorian Kelly O’Dwyer, while veteran MP Bronwyn Bishop is being tipped for the Speaker’s job.
Mrs Mirabella has served as shadow minister for industry, innovation and science for the past three years.
Until Saturday night, she was considered a certainty for cabinet.
She released a statement yesterday declaring she wanted Mr Abbott to have the “freedom to select his new front bench’’ without her involvement.
“This is not about me,” Mrs Mirabella said.
“This is about our country.”
Mr Abbott paid tribute to his long-time friend.
“I pay tribute to Sophie Mirabella and thank her for her magnanimity in ensuring the continuing vote count in Indi does not hinder formation of the new ministry,” he said.
“I have valued Sophie’s friendship for over a quarter of a century.
“She has been a trusted colleague and a senior member of my shadow cabinet.”
Last night the two-party preferred split in Indi was 40,405 (50.69 per cent) for Ms McGowan and 39,305 for Mrs Mirabella, though on postal votes the latter led by 3343 to 2460 — with more yet to be counted.