Time for the monthly assembly of New South Wales state election news, starting with some none-too-timely opinion poll snippets before moving on to a meaty stew of preselection:
• Roy Morgan published a somewhat dated poll last week conducted at an unspecified time in November, encompassing a phone and online sample of 1234. It had Labor leading 52-48 from primary votes of Coalition 37%, Labor 35%, Greens 11.5% and One Nation 5%.
• On November 17, Max Maddison of The Australian reported that a statewide poll conducted for a “major industry group” that asked not to be identified had Labor on 40% of the primary vote, up from 33.3% at the 2019 election, and the Coalition at 37%, which entailed the Liberals holding steady from 32.0% while the Nationals tumbled from 9.6% to 4%. The Greens were on 9% and One Nation 6%, respectively compared with 9.6% and 1.1% (from a small number of seats contested in One Nation’s case). Chris Minns had 42% approval and 27% disapproval, while Domonic Perrottet was on 39% and 47%. The poll was conducted from a sample of 1000 from November 8 to 10.
• RedBridge has published polls conducted from September 23 to October 3 from seats with prospects for teal independents, from which the topline results suggested they were struggling to poll clear of Labor in Manly, North Shore, Pittwater and Wakehurst, but would be placed to take it right up to the Liberals at the final count if they could make it there. However, they also suggested independents were starting from too far behind in Lane Cove and the regional seat of Oxley. When it was put to respondents that the independents might bear comparison to Zali Steggall, Kylea Tink, Sophie Scamps and Caz Heise, they landed in first place on the primary vote in Manly and close to it everywhere else except Lane Cove.
Now to a thicket of Liberal preselection disputes, the recurring theme of which is gender balance:
• Against a backdrop of defeats for women preselection candidates (on which much more below), Liberal factional leaders spent the Christmas period on a messy re-engineering of the Legislative Council ticket that reduced three incumbents from what had previously been an all-male ticket, Matthew Mason-Cox, Lou Amato and Shayne Mallard, to unwinnable positions. Mason-Cox is the President of the Legislative Council and Mallard is one of the Liberals’ two gay or lesbian members, a point noted by skeptics of the deal as a win for diversity. The ticket will now be led by Natasha Maclaren-Jones, who is in fact presently in the middle of an eight-year term, which she will cut short in pursuit of a renewed mandate. Presumably the deal also had something to say about who would fill the vacancy to serve out the remaining four years of her existing term, although news reportage has been silent on this point. Also coming on to the ticket are Rachel Merton, a ministerial staffer to Maclaren-Jones, former head of government affairs at KPMG Australia and daughter of former Baulkham Hills MP Wayne Merton, and Susan Carter, law lecturer at the University of Sydney. Merton and Carter are on the right, while Maclaren-Jones has reportedly shifted to the right from the centre-right, who are less than pleased with the whole arrangement. As brokered between Dominic Perrottet, conservative leader Damien Tudehope and moderate Matt Kean, the deal initially favoured former Deniliquin school teacher Jean Haynes over Merton, which also prompted a rebellion from the latter’s backers in the right. The deal’s second incarnation with Merton replacing Haynes won the required support from the state executive with help from an intervention by Peter Dutton.
• Not countenanced by the factions in their negotiations over the Legislative Council ticket was Melanie Gibbons, who was defeated for preselection in her lower house seat of Holsworthy last month by Tina Ayyad, former Liverpool deputy mayor and wife of current mayor Ned Mannou. Gibbons was persuaded not to pursue designs on the seat of Hughes at the May federal election in part with an offer of a cabinet position from Dominic Perrottet, who feared the party might lose Holsworthy in her absence. However, his backing proved insufficient to save her career via a seat in the upper house.
• The Liberal candidate for the northern beaches seat of Pittwater, which will be vacated with the retirement of senior minister Rob Stokes, will be Rory Amon, a moderate-aligned family lawyer and Northern Beaches councillor. Amon emerged as the only candidate after two women fell by the wayside: the aforementioned Natasha Maclaren-Jones, who withdrew from her bid to move to the seat from the upper house after recognising she did not have the numbers to defeat Amon, and Claire Longley, EY consultant and daughter of former member Jim Longley, who had not consistently been a financial party member for the required period and failed to win an exemption. Matt Kean was censured by the local branch after calling on party leaders to have a say over the preselection rather than it being left to the “old, out of touch, misogynist men” of the local membership. The party hierarchy’s concern that the seat might go the way of Warringah, Wentworth, North Sydney and Mackellar in the absence of a female candidate were underscored by a reported an email from Amon to state party president Maria Kovacic in which he denounced internal polling showing him with too low a primary vote to retain the seat as “push polling”. Linda Silmalis of the Daily Telegraph reported Amon rejected an offer from moderates to exchange places with upper house MP and Metropolitan Roads Minister Natalie Ward. Amon faces opposition from independent Jacqui Scruby, an environmental lawyer and climate change business advisor who has the backing of Climate 200.
• Natalie Ward also came up empty-handed in her bid to succeed the retiring Jonathan O’Dea in Davidson in late November, despite backing from Dominic Perrottet and Matt Kean. Ward was defeated in the preselection ballot by Matt Cross, head of government relations at the George Institute for Global Health and former staffer to Mike Baird and Barry O’Farrell, by 95 votes to 85. The Sydney Morning Herald reported Cross had won favour by pushing for small-scale nuclear reactors in every community, although he is factionally aligned with the moderates. Kean said he was “devastated” at Ward’s defeat and called Cross’s reactor plan a “fantasy”.
• The Liberal preselection for Parramatta made headlines after nominee Tanya Raffoul, chief-of-staff to Transport Minister David Elliott, claimed party members had told her she should “settle down and have children” and was “too assertive” to be a member of parliament. Linda Silmalis of the Daily Telegraph reported that Raffoul faced “several right-wing candidates”, whose faction dominated the local branches, the front-runner among whom would appear to be lawyer Katie Mullens.
• In Riverstone, to be vacated with the retirement of Kevin Conolly, the Liberal preselection was won by Mohit Kumar, who holds a management position at Macquarie Bank, ahead of female rival Reena Jethi, The Hills Shire councillor and former teacher, by 98 votes to 68.
• The failure of women to win preselection for the Liberals stands in contrast to the Nationals, who have lately endorsed local mayor Peta Pinson to take on Leslie Williams in Port Macquarie after her defection from the Nationals to the Liberals; former Country Women’s Association president Annette Turner in Barwon and Edward River mayor Peta Betts in Murray, whose respective members Roy Butler and Helen Dalton have quit Shooters Fishers and Farmers to sit as independents (more on that below); Tanya Thompson, electorate officer to outgoing member Stephen Bromhead, in Myall Lakes; and former Snowy Valleys councillor Adrianna Benjamin in Wagga Wagga, held by independent Joe McGirr. Lachlan Leeming of the Daily Telegraph reported last week that the Nationals were warning the Liberals off running in Wagga Wagga, arguing the party’s brand remains damaged locally by the Daryl Maguire affair.
Further on the Coalition preselection front:
• The preselection for the safe Liberal seat of Castle Hill has developed into a saga to rival the party’s damaging multi-electorate deadlock ahead of the federal election. The incumbent, Transport Minister David Elliott, announced his intention to retire in October after recognising he could not retain preselection after the redistribution transferred right-controlled branches into the seat. That appeared to leave the way open for the right-backed Noel McCoy, Norton Rose Fulbright partner and former ministerial adviser. However, the party’s candidate vetting committee has blocked McCoy’s nomination over his opposition to abortion and the Berejiklian government’s COVID lockdowns, despite the committee’s ambit ostensibly being limited to probity issues. The party administration reacted by scrapping the preselection process altogether, also locking out rival conservative contender Rajiv Chaudhri, Spicy Bean Cafe founder and director of domestic violence charity the Lisa Harnum Foundation, who was deemed to have broken party rules over the use of promotional material. This could potentially open the door for Elliott to stay on, notwithstanding that he has delivered his valedictory speech, but he remains encumbered by the local dominance of the right and his own alignment with the centre-right. Linda Silmalis of the Daily Telegraph reports that another contender is Mark Hodges, The Hills Shire deputy mayor.
• The Liberal preselection for Vaucluse was won by Kellie Sloane, former television reporter, ahead of Mary-Lou Jarvis, Woollahra councillor, and Roanne Knox, former management consultant and founder of a teen fashion label.
• Other endorsed Liberal candidates include Jordan Lane, the 28-year-old mayor of Ryde, to succeed retiring Liberal member Victor Dominello in Ryde; Kylie von Muenster, speech pathologist and law firm office manager, in Labor-held marginal Coogee; and former test cricket bowler Nathan Bracken, who earlier ran as an independent in Dobell at the 2013 election and for Central Coast Council in 2017, in Labor-held The Entrance.
Other preselection news:
• Labor’s recent candidates include Terry Campese, former captain of NRL club the Canberra Raiders and state-of-origin representative, to run in Monaro against Nichole Overall, who retained John Barilaro’s old seat for the Nationals at a by-election in February, and Canada Bay councillor Julia Little in Drummoyne, where John Sidoti has abandoned notions of running as an independent after being forced out of the Liberal Party following an adverse ruling from ICAC. However, Labor’s initial nominee for Ryde, local doctor Francisco Valencia, withdrew earlier this month after an apprehended violence order was sought against him over an alleged domestic incident.
• Orange MP Phil Donato and Barwon MP Roy Butler have quit Shooters Fishers and Farmers, leaving the party with none of the three lower house seats it won in 2019. This follows Donato’s and Butler’s failure, along with upper house member Mark Banasiak, to have a new executive committee replace the one dominated by supporters of the party’s longest serving parliamentarian, Robert Borsak. The trio had called on Borsak to resign after he said during in parliamentary debate that he “should have got up and clocked” Helen Dalton, who won Murray for the party in 2022 and resigned from it in March.
• In the teal independent realm, North Sydney’s Independent has endorsed candidates for North Shore and Lane Cove. They are, respectively, Helen Conway, former corporate lawyer and head of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, and Victoria Davidson, who runs a podiatry business with her husband, to run in Lane Cove against senior front-bencher Anthony Roberts, who may be regretting his decision to brandish a lump of coal in parliament in 2017. Manly candidate Joeline Hackman, founder of the Northern Beaches War on Waste community group, has official backing from Climate 200, as does the aforementioned Jacqui Scruby in Pittwater. Northern Beaches mayor Michael Regan has been rated “likely” to win the endorsement of community group Wakehurst’s Independent by one media source, and described as “favourite at unbackable odds” to win the seat if he runs by another.
• Former Liberal official and IT businessman Matthew Camenzuli has formed Choice 200 to fund “true-blue” independents to take on senior Liberals. Camenzuli says the candidates will campaign on “cost of living, housing and energy security”, although his main beef is plainly with a Liberal Party preselection process that prompted him to take legal action against the party amid its preselection stand-off ahead of the federal election, in which senior figures including Scott Morrison took over the process to protect incumbents from preselection challenges.