Moree’s Hollie Hughes is sitting at the heart of a potential political firestorm, with the disability advocate set to replace former cabinet minister Fiona Nash in parliament.
In a High Court ruling on Friday on the “Citizenship 7” Ms Nash, the Deputy Leader of the National Party who held a swag of portfolios including rural health and regional development, was declared a British citizen who was ineligible to be elected, ending her 12-year parliamentary career.
The former NSW senator will be replaced on a countback by Mrs Hughes, a disability advocate and centre-right Liberal - who was next on the Coalition's Senate ticket in that state at the 2016 election.
Born in Adelaide, Mrs Hughes has lived in Moree for many years where she has become an advocate for autism support.
Mrs Hughes’ middle child, Fred, has autism and Mrs Hughes founded and chairs the Country Autism Network (CAN).
She has served on Liberal Party State Executive for about a decade.
The disqualification of Ms Nash creates a potential firestorm between the Liberals and their National coalition partners in NSW, with Ms Nash keen to return but Mrs Hughes intent on taking the seat.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbul yesterday named Ms Hughes as Ms Nash’s successor.
He said Ms Nash was "above all" loyal to the Coalition - comments interpreted by some as an instruction to the Nationals not to challenge Ms Hughes' elevation.
Fairfax Media understands Ms Hughes, country vice-president of the NSW Liberals and a controversial figure in the party, is desperate to take the seat and will not stand aside to allow Ms Nash to return.
"Stampeding horsemen wouldn't be able to convince her from taking up the position," a senior NSW Liberal source said on Friday.
Ms Hughes won a preselection ballot to top the ticket in NSW before the last election, but was forced to give way to sitting minister Concetta Fierrevanti-Wells.
"She would simply need her political head read ... if she were to do that a second time," the party source said.
Another option would be for Inverell-based Nationals senator John "Wacka" Williams to bring forward his retirement, to be replaced by Ms Nash, but Senator Williams has said that will not happen.
“There’s no truth in it,” Senator Williams said on Saturday morning.
“I’m planning for my retirement on 30th of June 2019 when my time expires.”
Senator Williams, who in March this year revealed he had Parkinson’s Disease and would not be seeking another term, has served in the senate since 2008.
In July he publicly criticised the Liberal Party, saying the arguments between Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his predecessor Tony Abbott were causing division that would lead the party to defeat at the next election.
Liberals argue the Nationals are in a weak position to assert themselves given their failure to ensure candidates relinquished foreign allegiances. The citizenship net did not entrap any Liberal or Labor MPs.