‘The Liberal Party can’t exist for itself’: Constance on life after politics

Former NSW transport minister Andrew Constance does not have a plan B.

For the first time in 20 years, Constance is not a politician after bowing out of his long career in state politics to contest the federal seat of Gilmore. But the long-term state minister did not think it would end like this.

Counting came down to the wire, but his federal ambitions fell short by just 373 votes, and Constance failed to pick up the South Coast seat the Liberals were pinning their hopes on. His request for a recount was knocked back by the Australian Electoral Commission, but for now, he is happy.

However, the fire in his belly has not gone. The career MP hasn’t ruled out another tilt at Canberra, although he says the troubled NSW division of the party he joined as a Young Liberal needs to find its way or face irrelevance.

The party can’t exist for itself, it’s got to exist for the community, Constance said. It’s got to reflect community values and community thinking. Politics can’t continue as a dog-eat-dog world because it isn’t resulting in good outcomes for our community.

While Constance, 48, was a constant and senior figure in the NSW Coalition after it was swept to power in 2011, he rose to prominence after the deadly Black Summer fires. He almost lost his home in Malua Bay on the final day of 2019. That day, New Year’s Eve, changed me forever, he later said.

He with then prime minister Scott Morrison, who Constance said probably got the welcome he deserved after an ill-fated trip to the fire-ravaged town of Cobargo, where Morrison by locals.

I know this is tough, and I know I’m on his side of politics. But the only two people who are providing leadership at this stage are [NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner] Shane Fitzsimmons and [premier] Gladys Berejiklian, Constance said at the time.

Constance and Morrison put any bad blood between them aside during the federal election campaign. The Black Summer bushfires also reinforced to Constance the urgent need to act on climate change.

A lot of communities have been belted by these major climatic events, Constance said. They are the ones who want the world to change the most, they are wanting to see a response from government which is different from funding more fire stations or fire trucks, but actually looking at the way in which we can shift the landscape.

He warned that public policy thinking in Australia had been dead for a long time, which had become even more obvious amid the current energy crisis gripping many of the states.

We’ve probably seen one of the biggest failures in terms of the national energy market and marrying together the sustainability needs that we need to move to, Constance said. We can’t just continue to look at emissions reductions, we have to look holistically at regenerative economy and how we can achieve that so that we’re not we’re not harming the environment any more than we have to.

Asked what he will do next, Constance laughed. I can’t answer that question because I didn’t have a plan B, but it’s never too late to get one. But I still want to be involved to help the community, he said.

I can’t take 20 years of political life with some of the biggest portfolios at state level and not want to continue to contribute in some form.

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