THE former Howard government minister Mal Brough is on track to re-enter Parliament after preselectors overlooked his role in the Peter Slipper affair and chose him as the Liberal-National Party candidate for Mr Slipper's Sunshine Coast seat of Fisher.
Mr Brough should win the safe Coalition seat at the next federal election, but Labor said he would become a millstone around Tony Abbott's neck.
Mr Brough is not guaranteed an automatic return to the frontbench, due to fierce resistance from his future colleagues.
''He's been out of the game for five years,'' one Coalition frontbencher said. ''He goes to the back of the queue.''
With 334 preselectors voting, Mr Brough easily beat eight other candidates, including the popular and strongly endorsed former party official James McGrath.
Mr Brough was declared the winner after the first of what was supposed to be a series of ballots in which the loser would be eliminated each time until one candidate secured a majority.
After his win, Mr Brough said he was not expecting an immediate frontbench return and he defended his role in the Slipper affair as helping a friend in need, ''no more, no less''.
Mr Brough initially denied he had had any contact with Mr Slipper's chief accuser and former aide, James Ashby, but then admitted to at least three meetings. Subsequently, court documents have suggested Mr Brough had extensive involvement and frequent contact with Mr Ashby and with another of Mr Slipper's former aides, Karen Doane, as the case of alleged sexual harassment and Cabcharge rorting was formulated.
Mr Brough allegedly received stolen copies of Mr Slipper's diary extracts from Mr Ashby. As part of the process, he offered to help find Ms Doane a job, even passing on her resume´ to the mining magnate Clive Palmer.
The government and Mr Slipper allege Mr Brough conspired with Mr Ashby and Ms Doane to damage Mr Slipper and advance his own political prospects.
The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, insisted again yesterday that Mr Brough had always been open about his involvement in the case.
The Trade Minister, Craig Emerson, a Queenslander, was critical.
''Mal Brough's involvement in the Ashby matter and his denials make him Mr Abbott's problem now,'' Mr Emerson said.
Mr Abbott is the odds-on-favourite to win the next election and is already under pressure to promote a bevy of rising stars to the frontbench. But none of his existing frontbenchers has indicated a willingness to step aside and the jostling for the spoils of victory has already begun.
Apart from the recently minted NSW senator and former right-hand man to John Howard, Arthur Sinodinos, who is certain to be promoted, others in line include Scott Ryan, Jamie Briggs, Simon Birmingham, Paul Fletcher and Kelly O'Dwyer.
The former West Australian Liberal treasurer, Christian Porter, is also set to join federal Parliament and will be expecting rapid promotion.
Mr Brough was elected in 1996. He entered the ministry in 2001 and the cabinet in 2006.
He lost his Queensland seat of Longman in 2007.