Perrottet government faces challenge from new wave of teals in NSW’s 2023 state election

Community-based groups are looking for candidates but they may find it harder to gain traction than federal independents

The Perrottet government will face a wave of community-based independent candidates at the next state election running on platforms of integrity in NSW politics, sustainability and local development issues.

Community-based groups, some of which include people who worked on federal campaigns for “teal” candidates, are being set up along the north shore of Sydney and in the east.

North Sydney’s Independent (NSI), will on Sunday launch its state campaign for three state seats – Lane Cove, North Shore and Willoughby. The group has already begun setting up campaign infrastructure and surveying voters on issues, and are now looking for suitable candidates.

But independent candidates in NSW seeking to emulate the success of federal teals face some extra challenges including include caps on donations and optional preferential voting.

State electoral laws limit the size of donations to non-registered parties to $3,300 a donor, which means groups will need a wide pool of supporters, and fundraising groups like Simon Holmes à Court’s Climate 200 will be unable to make substantial contributions as they did for somefederal independents. The limits also apply to in-kind donations.

Optional preferential voting in NSW means that preference flows can be weak. In the federal election most teal candidates came second on primary votes and then overtook the incumbent once preferences were counted. But in NSW, voters can cast a valid vote by just voting “1”.

Success for state independents may depend on convincing third placed and minor parties to direct their supporters to fill out preferences, which then flow to them.

The NSW election will lack the lightning-rod issue of climate change that helped propel independents’ campaigns at the federal election, with the NSW Liberals committed to detailed strategies for achieving net zero by 2050.

One well-organised group hoping to run in three state seats has been sounding out communities about their appetite for a local representative at the state level.

NSI were behind the early stages of independent MP Kylea Tink’s campaign for the federal seat of North Sydney.

The group believes there is particular impetus for an independent in Lane Cove, a seat currently held by the NSW planning minister, Anthony Roberts, who is a member of the hard-right faction.

“We think there is a mismatch between the community and their representation,” said NSI co-founder Denise Shrivell.

Development and sustainability are big issues on the lower north shore, where there has been significant medium and high-density development, with more planned.

As planning minister, Roberts has made recent decisions like scrapping a state planning policy designed to introduce more sustainable building standards, Shrivell said.

In Willoughby, which was held by former premier Gladys Berejiklian until her resignation, an independent came close to beating her replacement, Tim James, in February.

With just a three-week campaign, Larissa Penn, a local community advocate, achieved a 13.5% swing against the Liberal candidate, but lost 53.3% to 46.7% two-party preferred.

Byelections often prompt a protest vote and Penn said she was still considering whether to run again.

“I haven’t committed yet,” she said. “I am focused on representing the community’s concerns about issues associated with the state government’s western harbour tunnel and beaches link, which they say is on hold, but they are still cutting down hundreds of trees.”

The project involves a land swap of crown land for part of Cammeray golf course, land-clearing in order to create an access point for tunnelling equipment and disturbing old dump sites which could contaminate waterways, Penn said.

“People are really upset about not being listened to,” she said.

“It’s the lack of transparency, integrity and conflict of interest issues. They’re just rife in these sort of major projects.”

The seat of North Shore, held by moderate Liberal Felicity Wilson, could also be vulnerable, particularly if she faces a preselection challenge. The seat has been the target of factional power plays in the past.

In the eastern suburbs, Karen Freyer, a former candidate for the city of Sydney council has set up a Twitter page, Vaucluse Independent.

She said she was sizing up a tilt at the state seat of Vaucluse, where longtime Liberal MP Gabrielle Upton is retiring.

“It’s probably a bit premature,” she said. “It’s definitely a David and Goliath contest, but I think Vaucluse deserves better representation.” Freyer noted that Upton voted against decriminalising abortion in NSW.

Voters in the seat have now had the experience of independent representation at a federal level by Kerryn Phelps and Allegra Spender, and while it includes some of Sydney’s wealthiest areas, it also includes parts of Bondi and Rushcutters Bay.

Freyer, a former journalist who moved to the corporate world and then to the not-for-profit-sector, grew up in the eastern suburbs and attended Ascham school. She does not live in the seat now but is planning to move back.

In the northern beaches, a number of community organisers who worked on the successful campaigns of Sophie Scamps in Mackellar and Zali Steggall in Warringah, are sounding out the community in the state seat of Wakehurst, which covers the area from DeeWhy and Collaroy to French’s Forest.

The longtime member, Brad Hazzard, has indicated he may retire but has not made a formal announcement. This could make the seat vulnerable.

Sarah Baker, one of the organisers of Wakehurst Independents said: “We were spurred on by the fact that change is indeed possible.”

The group has been refining its platforms and next week will begin surveying the community to see what issues matter to them.

They have already identified integrity in politics, climate, environment and inappropriate development issues as potential drivers for their campaign.

The state government recently agreed to include six sites owned by the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council (MLALC) in the northern beaches for future potential development.

Baker acknowledged that the local Liberal MPs have been opposed to the rezoning, but have been ineffectual in stopping it.

The NSW Liberals are expected to counter with emphasis on their record, particularly on infrastructure projects.

A spokesperson for the NSW Liberal party said: “The Liberals have a strong record in government of delivery, strengthening frontline services, investing in our communities and building much-needed infrastructure.”


Anne Davies

The GuardianTramp

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