Labor leader Anthony Albanese says he expects former Young Labor member and Bega mayor Kristy McBain will receive "strong support" as she seeks preselection for the upcoming Eden-Monaro by-election, following the resignation of Mike Kelly due to ongoing health issues.
Describing her as "passionate" and "articulate", Mr Albanese said the resignation of Dr Kelly on Thursday has left "big shoes to fill" in the "vast electorate", and glowingly praised Ms McBain's connections with the local business community.
My values have always been aligned with the Labor Party.Kristy McBain
"Kristy is not only the right person for Labor, but the right person for Eden-Monaro," Mr Albanese said.
"I expect that Kristy will receive strong support. Kristy is a stand out as a local representative."
Ms McBain was quick to take aim at the federal and state governments, saying the region had been "left behind" after the recent bushfire emergency, and questioned why the struggling region has not been drought declared.
"We have people still living in tents and caravans on their properties," she said.
When questioned about her party membership, Ms McBain said she had recently rejoined the party after previously letting her membership lapse.
"My values have always been aligned with the Labor Party,' she said.
"I am here for my community. I'm here because I want to represent my community."
State Nationals MP and deputy premier John Barilaro has said he will weigh up his options over the weekend.
The NSW Nationals leader said the Coalition should back his potential run at the electorate and not stand a Liberal rival, and has said he will not run against Bega MP and government colleague Andrew Constance, who has said his options remain open.
"The truth here is this is going to be a tough seat. It's the bellwether seat and no party owns the seat," Mr Barilaro said.
"If the Prime Minister wants to bolster his numbers in the parliament the best way forward would be a coalition unity ticket - one candidate taking on the Labor Party."
Liberal candidate Fiona Kotvojs came within just a few per cent of claiming the seat in last year's federal election, and has confirmed she will run for preselection, as has Liberal Senator Jim Molan.
"I wish Kristy all the best, and I hope she enjoys the process," Ms Kotvojs said.
Mr Molan said reports this week he would not run against Ms Kotvojs were "mischievous and not true".
NSW Liberal state director Chris Stone said the party "is looking to select a candidate with experience and local knowledge, who can hit the ground running and get things done".
It is understood the Greens will also run a candidate in the by-election.
One local Labor Party member called Mr Albanese's endorsement of Ms McBain a "captain's pick", which they said "disappoints many of us in the membership".
"There are interested party members [who may run against her], but they aren't from this part of the electorate," they said.
Dr Kelly said on Friday, he hopes to see the next member for Eden-Monaro push for serious action on the issue of climate change, and to hold the government accountable over its bushfire response strategy.
"We've been fighting hard in that area, and I've been working 24/7 on the bushfires," he said.
"I got a really poor response from the prime minister during question time, where he described people in need as almost like bludgers, which I thought was offensive.
"Everywhere I went I had meetings with business councils and chambers, and it was all the same feedback - that they weren't getting what they needed.
"It was only then [after COVID-19] that we got the help we needed after the bushfires."
He said the electorate has still not forgotten the angry response to the prime minister's visit to the Cobargo evacuation centre in January, which Mr Constance later said the prime minister "probably deserved".
"People were sad and angry, and as the first person in there you are risking certain reactions," Dr Kelly said.
"During that time you have to expect it. You have to stand there and cop abuse and listen.
"Then to forcibly try and shake hands, it is hard to stomach. It's unacceptable."
However, he said since the COVID-19 outbreak, there has been "a spirit around the country that we need to pull together".
Ms McBain's council colleague and president of the Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action group Jo Dodds, the winning candidate will continue Dr Kelly's "strong, informed, and outspoken defence of our communities through action on climate change".
"BSCA will be watching with interest to see which candidates are willing to step up strongly on climate damage, because once the coronavirus restrictions begin to ease and we start to return to 'normal' we need to remember that the bushfire threat is still getting higher every year," she said.