Nationals leader Michael McCormack has rejected suggestions an alleged spat with NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro threatens to overshadow the party's attempt to make the upcoming Eden-Monaro byelection a three-cornered contest.
Ex Queanbeyan-Palerang deputy mayor Trevor Hicks edged out former ACT public servant Fleur Flanery, Cooma grazier Michael Green and Bywong nutritionist Mareeta Grundy to gain preselection as the Nationals candidate for the July 4 poll on Saturday.
The announcement brought the deputy prime minister and the NSW deputy premier together for the first time since Mr Barilaro accused Mr McCormack of undermining his prospective candidacy for the seat.
Mr Barilaro, currently the state member for Monaro, was rumoured to be considering making the jump to federal parliament but withdrew his interest after failing to get a clear endorsement from Mr McCormack. An expletive-laden slur from Mr Barilaro later prompted NSW Liberal Andrew Constance to pull out of the contest also.
"Your lack of public enthusiasm or support for my candidacy went a long way to my final decision," Mr Barilaro reportedly told Mr McCormack through text messages last month.
"To feel threatened by me clearly shows you have failed your team and failed as a leader. You will never be acknowledged by me as our leader. You aren't. You never will be."
In Queanbeyan on Saturday, Mr McCormack denied there was any residual tension.
"Not at all. John and I know we've got an outstanding candidate in Trevor Hicks. We're both very much behind him," Mr McCormack said.
Mr Barilaro refused to confirm or deny he had sent the text messages, but said he was "united" with Mr McCormack in supporting Mr Hicks as a candidate.
"Michael McCormack is the deputy prime minister of this country. He leads the federal National party. I lead the NSW National Party. One of the things we will always put first is our communities," Mr Barilaro said.
Mr Hicks lives at Captains Flat near Queanbeyan and has served as a councillor for the region. He was described as a "grassroots candidate", a father, a husband and "someone who understands the land" by Mr Barilaro.
Mr Hicks said he wanted to create jobs in the electorate, which has been devastated by the bushfires and coronavirus downturn. He said he believed that the supports offered to date by the federal government had been sufficient but "we need to get the community back running, back working".
The announcement by the Nationals will create a three-cornered contest for the seat of Eden-Monaro, pitting Mr Hicks against Liberal candidate Fiona Kotvojs and Labor's Kristy McBain.
"I'll make this clear. There is no such party as the Coalition. We're a standalone party. We're not the lapdog, we're not the junior partner. We're the party that delivers for the bush. We'll make those decisions as we need to but at the end of the day the voters of Eden-Monaro will decide where their preferences go," he said.
Mr Barilaro also took a swipe at the former Liberal member for Eden-Monaro Peter Hendy, saying he was "one of the worst" people to represent the area ever.
"Why? He didn't care about his community," Mr Barilaro said.
"We have an opportunity in this byelection to give the voters of Eden-Monaro an option beyond the Liberal Party and an option beyond the Labor Party.
"At this byelection we can do something different, we can put our platform forward as the Nationals, fight for what we believe in."