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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Tamsin Rose

NSW minister Rob Stokes quits as Natasha Maclaren-Jones seeks to replace him in Pittwater

Dominic Perrottet and Rob Stokes
NSW premier Dominic Perrottet and infrastructure minister Rob Stokes, who will resign as the member for Pittwater at the next state election. Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP

The New South Wales families and communities minister, Natasha Maclaren-Jones, will seek to replace infrastructure minister Rob Stokes as the member for Pittwater at the next election after he announced his intention to resign at the March poll.

Stokes, a senior member of Dominic Perrottet’s cabinet, said on Friday it was time to “make room for a different perspective and a new voice”.

“We now need a contest to elect a new representative to serve the Pittwater community in the parliament of NSW,” he said.

“I will use all my energy, experience and enthusiasm to support the Liberals and Nationals team as we fight to return the Perrottet-Toole government in 2023.”

Within an hour of the announcement, Maclaren-Jones – who currently sits in the state’s upper house – announced she would put herself forward for preselection.

“Pittwater has always been very special to me having been a part of this wonderfully diverse community,” she said.

Stokes, the infrastructure, cities and active transport minister, has held many other cabinet roles in the past including education, planning, heritage and the environment.

There had been speculation over his future in state parliament since his failed attempt to replace Gladys Berejiklian as premier in October last year.

Pittwater is one of a handful of traditionally blue-ribbon Sydney seats that may be targeted at the election by environment-focused independents, who are organising following the success of the so-called “teal” candidates at the 2022 federal election.

The Independent Pittwater campaign been encouraging locals to consider running in the seat, with nominations to close in late October.

Campaign spokesperson Rebecca Clarke said people were ready for a different style of leadership and that they wanted to see politicians work together across party lines.

“While minister Stokes was popular, the Liberal National Coalition he is a part of no longer enjoys the same popular support,” she said.

“As a long standing safe Liberal seat, Pittwater has been taken for granted by NSW Liberal and Labor governments.”

Stokes joins the likes of the customer service minister, Victor Dominello, the corrections minister, Geoff Lee, and the lower house speaker, Jonathan O’Dea, who have announced they will retire from politics at the election.

Former attorney general Gabrielle Upton and Riverstone MP Kevin Connolly have also indicated they will leave.

Asked about the slew of resignations at a press conference on Friday morning, the treasurer, Matt Kean, said the team was “fresh”, despite 12 years in power.

“We’ve got a new, young, dynamic Liberal premier, with a new, fresh team setting a bold, new vision for the state,” he said.

Kean said Maclaren-Jones would be a “great member for Pittwater’’.

“Rob Stokes has been a big champion to see more women coming into parliament and I look forward to Rob Stokes supporting a woman into the seat of Pittwater,” he said.

[Maclaren-Jones] is certainly a strong candidate and I look forward to other strong candidates sticking up their hands to be part of our team.”

The minority Coalition government holds 45 seats in the 93-seat NSW legislative assembly, compared with Labor’s 37.

There are three Greens MPs, two Shooters and Fishers and six independents, including former Liberal frontbenchers John Sidoti and Gareth Ward.

New Liberal candidates still need to be preselected for the seats of Drummoyne and Kiama, where Sidoti and Ward sit.

Sidoti was pushed out of the Liberal party and suspended from the NSW parliament after the Independent Commission Against Corruption found earlier in the year he had engaged in “serious corrupt conduct”.

He has denied the allegations and said he was considering challenging the findings in the supreme court.

Ward was kicked out of the party and suspended from parliament after being charged with sexual and indecent assault.

He has denied the allegations and the case is before the courts.

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