Federal Nationals deputy leader Bridget McKenzie has not explicitly ruled out vying for the seat of fallen colleague Andrew Broad at the next federal election.
The Victorian senator’s term is not due to expire until 2022, but there is speculation she is plotting a move to the lower house to position herself for a future leadership bid.
Mr Broad will not recontest the safe Nationals seat of Mallee in northern Victoria at the election, likely in May, after it emerged he used a ‘sugar baby’ website to meet with a younger woman in Hong Kong, charging taxpayers for the domestic leg of the trip.
Asked whether she would try to fill Mr Broad’s seat, Senator McKenzie hedged her bets.
‘‘There’s been a lot of speculation in recent times about what I, as senator for Victoria, am going to do,’’ she said last Thursday.
‘‘But I can tell you what I’m not going to do: I’m not going to give up on representing the great state of Victoria, give up on fighting for rural and regional Australia.’’
She also stressed she is backing Nationals leader Michael McCormack.
‘‘I’m deputy leader of the Nationals and my role is to support the strong leadership of Michael McCormack and what we, as a team, have been able to deliver for regional Australia,’’ she said.
The senator became deputy leader about a year ago and said the weeks preceding former leader Barnaby Joyce stepping down were among the hardest she had faced.
‘‘Three of the most difficult weeks of my career were supporting our previous leader as he sought to get the balance right between his personal and professional life, and I think they were incredibly difficult,’’ she said.
Mr McCormack said his deputy would have his full support if she wanted to run in Mallee, but he stressed the Nationals usually put locals into seats.
It was reported in October that Senator McKenzie would move her electoral office into the seat of Indi — held by independent MP Cathy McGowan — about 300km from her previous base in Bendigo.