After five federal elections, tough-talking Joanna Gash has decided to call it quits and says she will step down at the end of this term to seek out a more low-key political role at Shoalhaven City Council. Mrs Gash said yesterday she had been pondering whether to retire from federal politics for some time, and arrived at a decision over the Christmas break.She told a ‘‘surprised’’ Opposition Leader Tony Abbott of the move during a meeting a few weeks ago.The decision paves the way for a potentially fierce preselection contest in the once-marginal seat of Gilmore, where Mrs Gash has built a healthy 5 per cent margin over almost 16 years. Mrs Gash refused to endorse a successor and said it was now up to the Liberal Party establishment in Gilmore to find a replacement.She said her support for any future Liberal Party candidate was not guaranteed.‘‘It will depend on who it is ... If I feel strongly that they are the right person of course I will help them,’’ she said.‘‘It will be interesting to see who comes out of the woodwork.’’Among the possible contenders are Shoalhaven Deputy Mayor Andrew Guile, business owner Clive Brooks, conservative pastor Peter Pilt and former 2007 state election candidate Ann Sudmalis.Mrs Gash said she would retain her membership of the Liberal Party, but would run for mayor as an independent in the local government election, to be held in September.She would not be drawn on her opinion of Shoalhaven council except to say she would like to see more non-political councillors.Mayor Paul Green will not contest the position in September, to dedicate more time to his role as a NSW Government member of the Legislative Council, and mayoral nominations are months away.Mrs Gash has successfully defended Gilmore, once considered one of the most marginal seats in the country, on four occasions.Looking back she said she expected to lose the 2007 election, but instead won with a 5.1per cent swing, despite being lumbered with an extra 18,000 voters from the neighbouring Labor stronghold of Throsby.
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