A former corporate lawyer who spent years at the helm of the federal government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency will challenge Liberal MP Felicity Wilson in the seat of North Shore at the New South Wales election in March.
Helen Conway will on Tuesday be announced as an independent candidate in the blue ribbon seat, with the backing of a “teal” community group – North Sydney’s Independent – that launched Kylea Tink’s successful federal campaign.
Conway becomes the most recent in a string of teal-style independent candidates to have announced their runs in inner-city seats, undeterred by the lacklustre performance of independents at the Victorian poll.
“In NSW, there are compelling issues on people’s minds that need to be addressed, and certainly here in North Shore there are very significant issues,” Conway said, pointing to climate change, biodiversity, koala habitats, overdevelopment and integrity in politics.
“NSW has some issues that are screaming out for reform and I think that’s why people will support independents in the upcoming election.”
At the 2019 election, Wilson’s margin in North Shore was cut from 21% to 11%.
Earlier this week, environmental lawyer and business climate change adviser Jacqui Scruby announced her run for the seat of Pittwater as an independent, with the backing of the Climate 200 group.
Independent candidate Joeline Hackman will also challenge the environment minister, James Griffin, in Manly. Karen Freyer is challenging former TV journalist Kellie Sloane in Vaucluse, and Victoria Davidson is running against the planning minister, Anthony Roberts, in Lane Cove.
Conway said she has never been a member of a political party, nor had she ever thought about running, until she was approached earlier this year by members of the community where she has lived for almost three decades.
“Initially I thought, perhaps not. But having considered it and having the support of my family, I’m up for it,” she said.
“I have a lot of experience and I feel that at my time in life I can afford to do this. I’ve got the time to do it and I’ve got the experience to underpin mature discussions and work in the political arena in a balanced way.”
‘There is a different way of doing politics’
Conway said she wanted to see politics done differently, and joining a strong NSW crossbench, alongside Sydney independent Alex Greenwich, would let her do that.
“I’ve watched very closely the crossbench in NSW and they’ve worked very well together to effectively make change, drive policy change,” she said.
“Coming off the back of the federal election where you see some of the independents and what they’ve been able to achieve … it tells me that there is a different way of doing politics. It is ripe for reform, the way we do things in politics.”
Conway will be campaigning heavily on the link between the Liberal and the Nationals.
“The Nationals have had very public spats with the Liberals about land clearing, deforestation, koala habitat issues,” she said.
“If you vote for the Liberals, you get the Nationals.”
She will also campaign against the government’s environmental credentials and urban planning.
The premier, Dominic Perrottet, and the treasurer, Matt Kean, have each publicly dismissed the level of threat independents could have at the poll, repeatedly saying that voting for independent candidates meant voting for Labor.