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ABC News
ABC News
state political reporter Ashleigh Raper

NSW Premier refuses to concede blow to gender representation pledge after female MP snub

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has refused to concede the Liberal Party has suffered a blow to its attempt to boost the number of women in its ranks, after the government's most senior female minister failed to win preselection.

Roads Minister Natalie Ward was attempting to make the switch from the upper to the lower house, which currently has just 10 female Liberal MPs.

Ms Ward last night lost preselection in the safe lower north shore Davidson electorate to the former Premier Mike Baird's staffer, Matt Cross, 85 votes to 95.

In response to the result, the Premier pointed to the fact Ms Ward would remain in the upper house as she still has four years left of her term.

"As they say in the old El Paso ad 'por que no los dos?' — why not both?" Mr Perrottet said.

He was referencing a famous taco advertising campaign which aired 15 years ago.

"Natalie is a leading light," the Premier said.

"She's a future leader of the Liberal Party and she will continue to make a very strong contribution."

Ms Ward is the second Liberal female MP to lose preselection in less than a week.

Holworthy MP and minister-in-waiting, Melanie Gibbons, was ousted by her party after she was challenged by Tina Ayyad.

The party is now scrambling to try to find Ms Gibbons a spot on the upper house ticket.

The Premier has backed in the new candidate for Davidson who is replacing the outgoing speaker, Jonathan O'Dea.

"Matt Cross is somebody who is a Harvard graduate, somebody who has been a leader when it comes to public health policy," he said. 

As part of Mr Cross's pitch to preselectors, he stated that the Liberal Party should look to nuclear as an alternate power source, which could spark debate about the contentious issue during the campaign.

Dominic Perrottet's pledge to preselect more women falling short.

The seat of Davidson overlaps with the federal seat of Bradfield, where there was a 12 per cent swing away from the Liberal Party at May's election.

However, teal independent challenger Nicolette Boele fell short of unseating former minister Paul Fletcher.

It now means the once-safe Liberal seat is on a margin of 4.2 per cent.

Mr Fletcher, supported Mr Cross over Ms Ward in the preselection.

In September, he wrote a reference for Mr Cross which he sent to the Liberal state director Chris Stone.

"Davidson is a blue ribbon seat and it should attract outstanding candidates," Mr Fletcher said.

"Matt is such a candidate."

He then added: "I hope those views will be of assistance to preselectors".

There is concern internally within the Liberals that an independent candidate could also be a threat in Davidson.

So far, only one teal independent has announced they're running at March's NSW election.

Joeline Hackman in the seat of Manly is challenging Environment Minister James Griffin.

More independents are expected to run in the nearby blue ribbon Liberal seats on the northern beaches at Wakehurst and Pittwater.

Preselections are yet to be held in those seats to replace retiring long-term ministers Brad Hazzard and Rob Stokes.

One of Mr Hazzard's electoral office staff, Toby Williams, is set to replace him as a candidate in Wakehurst, while local councillor, Rory Amon, is likely to be the Pittwater candidate. 

Families and Communities Minister, and upper house MP, Natasha McLaren-Jones, was quick to announce her nomination for Pittwater when Mr Stokes said he was quitting politics, but withdrew when it became clear she could not win against Mr Amon.

In August, the Premier told the NSW Liberal Party conference that he wanted "to see more women" as candidates in the March election, while last week Treasurer Matt Kean issued a directive to branch members "to get on board with the program".

So far, the party has gone backwards in the number of women running in winnable seats.

The retiring former minister Shelley Hancock has been replaced by Luke Sikora as the candidate of the Legislative Assembly district of South Coast. 

The result in Davidson comes after the preselection in Ryde which resulted into a man replacing outgoing minister Victor Dominello, while the candidate running in Vaucluse after female MP Gabrielle Upton retired is Kellie Sloane.

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