Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella has pulled herself out of contention for a frontbench spot in Tony Abbott's new government as her future in Indi remains unclear.
As of 5.40pm on Thursday, Mrs Mirabella was still trailing independent candidate Cathy McGowan by 1100 votes, but had clawed back some ground. Earlier on Thursday afternoon, Ms McGowan was ahead by 1471 votes.
Liberal candidate Sophie Mirabella: The answer is in the post. Photo: Ben Eyles / Border Mail
On Thursday morning, Mrs Mirabella issued a statement saying she had spoken to the prime minister-elect.
She noted that the result in her regional Victorian seat would not be known for "many days".
"It is now time that our new Prime Minister has absolute freedom to select his new front bench. As my own future in the Parliament is not assured, I have asked that I not be considered for selection," she said.
"This is not about me. This is about our country."
Mrs Mirabella held the innovation, industry and science portfolio while in opposition and was expected to keep that role in government.
On Thursday, Coalition colleague Dennis Jensen put his hand up for the science ministry, telling Fairfax Media he felt "under-utilised".
Mrs Mirabella's opting out of a frontbench role will give Mr Abbott some much needed flexibility when sorting out his ministerial arrangements.
While Mr Abbott has pledged to keep his opposition lineup in government, he currently has too many frontbenchers. He has also been urged by some within his party to get rid of under performing MPs while he has the chance.
The loss of Mrs Mirabella will however make it even more difficult for Mr Abbott to create gender equality in his ministerial lineup.
Apart from Deputy Liberal Leader Julie Bishop, Mrs Mirabella had been the only woman in shadow cabinet.
Mr Abbott paid tribute to Mrs Mirabella, thanking her for her "tireless efforts for the Coalition in bringing us to government".
"[I] 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."
Earlier on Thursday, independent candidate Ms McGowan said she ''must admit to an outbreak of hope'' when it comes to the vote count in Indi, although is not yet claiming victory over Mrs Mirabella.
Ms McGowan's election chances received a surprise boost on Wednesday with the discovery of an extra 1003 votes in her favour amid a nail-biting contest in the regional Victorian seat.
The independent candidate said she was not yet prepared claim victory and noted that there would probably be a recount.
She said there were still ''quite a few'' postal and absentee votes to come in.
''I don't think we are prepared yet to say we're there,'' she told ABC TV.
Ms McGowan said she expected there would be a recount after the first count was over – but that the recount may not start until next Friday.
''We country people are good at waiting,'' she said.
The independent – who has prided herself on a campaign that did not stoop to negative personality politics – would not be drawn directly on the levels of personal animosity towards Ms Mirabella in Indi.
''Certainly, there was dissatisfaction with the level of representation people had experienced,'' Ms McGowan said.
She also said that the Coalition had taken Indi – which until the 2013 federal election had been regarded as a safe Liberal seat – for granted.
''Absolutely I do. You take a seat for granted, you stop listening and you stop giving us policies that work for rural and regional Australia and people are going to say it doesn't work for us,'' Ms McGowan said.
She also rejected suggestions that her views were aligned with the National Party – saying the party had let regional Australia down.
''Where's the National Party plan for growing jobs in rural and regional Australia. Where's their plan for education, for health services, the plan for infrastructure, the plan for infrastructure, the plan for broadband, where's their plan for trains?''
Former National Party MP for the state seat of Murray Valley, Ken Jasper, backed Ms McGowan in Indi.
He acknowledged that Ms Mirabella had a ''strong personality'' but told ABC Radio on Thursday that people in Indi believed they hadn't been represented as ''fully as they could have been''.