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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Tamsin Rose

Voters will reject Liberals if they don’t have enough female candidates, Matt Kean says

Head and shoulders of Matt Kean at an outdoor press conference
NSW Treasurer Matt Kean says voters have sent a strong message about diversity and the Liberal party needs to change its preselection process to reflect that. Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP

The New South Wales treasurer, Matt Kean, has savaged his own party’s preselection processes and membership, warning the Liberals risk losing voters at the March election if they fail to put up enough female candidates.

Kean, the party’s deputy leader, said he had been “devastated” that the state’s most senior Liberal woman, Natalie Ward, was not preselected in the ultra-safe seat of Davidson and had been beaten by a former staffer, despite having the premier’s support.

He said he would campaign to change party processes, including to allow upper house members like Ward to nominate for leadership roles. He and Dominic Perrottet have said Ward is a future party leader in the state.

“I thought that a smart, talented senior female minister would trump a former junior staffer every day of the week, but the party processes are the party processes and I will be campaigning for the candidate,” Kean said on Wednesday.

“The leadership now needs to change some of our processes. Clearly, we’re not seeing the results that the community expects the Liberal party to be delivering.”

Ward, who is the state’s women’s safety and roads minister, was looking to move into the lower house after the resignation of the speaker, Jonathan O’Dea. She was defeated in the preselection by former Mike Baird staffer Matt Cross under NSW’s one-member-one-vote rules.

Kean said it was an example of why the party needed to change.

“The community sent a very strong message not only to the Liberal party but to all political parties that they want to see more diversity in our parliaments,” he said.

“We need to make sure that we are looking at our processes to ensure that we are reflecting the sentiment, otherwise the community is going to take it into its own hands and reject Liberal candidates that don’t reflect the community values that they expect.”

Former federal Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman, who lost his seat at the March election to a teal candidate, has also warned his state colleagues to take care in candidate selection after disastrous results in Victoria at the weekend.

“As the NSW Liberal party finalises its own selections, it must be vigilant in this regard as there is little tolerance for candidates with views on the fringes in a modern major political party. Let them run for One Nation or some other more appropriate home,” he wrote in an opinion piece.

He also encouraged the party to lean heavily on its climate credentials in inner-city seats, where independents remain hopeful about their chances despite a forecast “teal wave” not eventuating in Victoria.

Climate 200’s founder, Simon Holmes à Court, this week said he remained hopeful for better results in NSW where the movement was “more mature”, with Zali Steggall having been voted into the federal parliament as the member for Warringah in 2019.

“It’s not a coincidence that the three new NSW federal independents are in seats bordering Zali’s. The social bonds between the community organisers are strong,” he said.

“Independents have been a feature on the state’s political landscape forever, especially in the areas that sit under the federal independents. This is reflected in our polling, which shows a much higher base level of support in NSW than in Victoria.”

He said community campaigners who worked on the federal campaigns were now “well rested and have had a much longer runway” compared with Victoria.

The independent candidate for Vaucluse, Karen Freyer, said she did not believe the Victorian results were indicative of the teals’ chances in NSW.

“It’s going be different,” Freyer said.

“We’re dealing with a Liberal government who always seems to be dictated to by the Nationals,” she said, noting the recent native logging furore.

“Voters are sick of politics as usual and they’re looking for someone that’s going to represent them and represent their voice. They’re sick of being in a safe seat and they’re sick of being ignored.”

While an independent candidate was yet to be selected to challenge in the blue ribbon seat of Pittwater, campaign spokesperson Rebecca Clarke was confident there was local support for an alternative to the Coalition.

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