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Liberals pick management consultant Simon Kennedy for Cook byelection

<span>Simon Kennedy with former prime minister John Howard during his failed bid to win Bennelong in the 2022 federal election.</span><span>Photograph: Dominic Giannini/AAP</span>
Simon Kennedy with former prime minister John Howard during his failed bid to win Bennelong in the 2022 federal election.Photograph: Dominic Giannini/AAP

Simon Kennedy will contest Scott Morrison’s seat of Cook for the Liberals in the byelection triggered by the former prime minister’s resignation.

Kennedy, a consultant and the former candidate for Bennelong, won preselection in the first round on Monday night with 158 out of 296 votes, beating the mayor of Sutherland shire, Carmelo Pesce, and war widow and veteran family advocate commissioner, Gwen Cherne.

Morrison announced his resignation in January to take on “new challenges in the global corporate sector” and formally resigned in late February, although no date has yet been set for the byelection.

Kennedy will be prohibitive favourite in the poll, given Morrison’s 12.5% margin, the inclination within Labor not to field a candidate, and the lack of a strong independent challenge.

In the preselection stoush Cherne fell short, winning just 35 votes, despite backing from the moderate faction and former prime minister John Howard.

Morrison largely sat out the preselection, despite expressing in 2021 that he would “would love to see a woman follow me as the member for Cook when I choose to retire from politics”.

Kennedy is a former partner at McKinsey who moved from Maroubra in south Sydney to contest Bennelong in 2022. He lost the northern Sydney seat to Labor’s Jerome Laxale by 1,954 votes, or 49-51% in two-party preferred terms.

Earlier on Monday the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, said Labor hasn’t “made a final decision” on whether or not to contest the election, a call to be made by the New South Wales branch.

“Cook is not a seat that it would be expected that we would win, but we’ll wait and see,” he told ABC Sydney.

“I noticed that the Liberal party have the opportunity to finally select a woman candidate today for Cook.

“But we’ll wait and see whether they actually do or whether it’s yet another bloke sitting behind Peter Dutton just saying no to everything.”

A Liberal party review into the 2022 election recommended a target of 50% female representation in parliament within 10 years or three terms, but the party has made little progress at boosting women in its ranks.

After Roshena Campbell lost the Aston byelection, the Liberals preselected Cameron Caldwell in Fadden, who went on to win the seat, and Nathan Conroy in Dunkley, who lost Saturday’s byelection but will re-contest the seat at the federal election after achieving a moderate swing of more than 3%.

In February the independent MP for Wentworth, Allegra Spender, said the Coalition “can’t just say we’d love to see women – they need to take action on this”.

“You’re seeing in the House of Representatives about one in five Liberal MPs are women, so … the electorate [will] judge whether that turns into action in terms of pre-selection,” Spender said.

Simon Holmes à Court, the founder of the Climate 200 fundraising body for independent candidates, has been spruiking for months for a local campaign group to approach seeking support in Cook.

A Climate 200 spokesperson told Guardian Australia that “nobody has approach for our support yet”.