The group that helped launch the successful bid for the formerly safe Liberal party seat of North Sydney are now turning their attention to the looming New South Wales state election, identifying three key Coalition electorates as targets.
Members of North Sydney’s Independent have identified the state seats of Lane Cove, North Shore, and Gladys Berejiklian’s former seat of Willoughby as potential targets for the March election.
The group, which first identified Kylea Tink as a candidate against the prominent Liberal party moderate Trent Zimmerman in the federal poll, has begun holding meetings about the state election, their spokesperson, Denise Shrivell, confirmed.
While she warned it was “very early” in the process, Shrivell said the group would look at whether to find candidates for one or more of the seats.
“At the moment we’re still uncertain about what the final outcome might be, but we’re certainly in conversations with people who are interested,” she said.
“What we’re doing is actively leaning into and participating in our democracy – which is exactly what we all should be doing.”
The rise of the so-called teal independents transformed the federal parliament at the May election, cutting through a swathe of once blue-ribbon Liberal party seats. They proved particularly successful in Sydney’s affluent northern and eastern suburbs.
As well as Tink, Dr Sophie Scamps unseated Jason Falinski in Mackellar, Zali Steggall comfortably held on to her seat of Warringah and Allegra Spender beat Dave Sharma in the eastern suburbs electorate of Wentworth.
Independents running in NSW will probably face a stiffer challenge because of the state’s optional preferencing system.
The ABC’s chief election analyst, Antony Green, said it would be “much harder” to replicate the teal wave in NSW, noting the independent candidates who took seats from the Liberal party at the federal election all did so from second place.
“Fewer independents would’ve been elected under an optional preferences system,” Green said.
While roughly 50% of voters use preferences in NSW, the benefits for the lead candidate significantly increases under the optional system.
“The number of seats in NSW state elections where a trailing candidate wins is only two or three at every election. In the federal election 15 is a pretty normal number. In NSW the Labor party has won two seats in 25 years on preferences. They’d win two in NSW from that position at just about every federal election,” Green said.
While North Sydney’s Independent has not yet identified candidates to run in any of the three seats, Shrivell said the group had identified them as potentially fruitful.
The seat of Willoughby in particular suffered a massive swing in the byelection forced by Berejiklian’s resignation.
Despite having only weeks to prepare for the vote, independent Larissa Penn picked up an almost 18% swing against Berejiklian’s replacement Tim James, a member of the party’s right faction who was seen as a shock pick in the seat.
Lane Cove is also a target for the group, with early canvassing suggesting voters have concerns about overdevelopment in the seat. The electorate has been held by the state’s planning minister, Anthony Roberts, since 2003. Despite being held on a margin of about 14%, campaigners believe reforms driven by Roberts in the portfolio could be used against him in the election.
The NSW government has not been blind to the threat of teal candidates. Following the federal election James released a statement insisting he would “take nothing for granted in office”.
He also signalled he wanted the government to put its controversial Beaches tunnel on hold, something it has since done.
Senior moderates in the government have also been pushing to shore up the kind of socially progressive, economically Liberal voters who turned away from the Coalition.
The treasurer, Matt Kean, was a vocal critic of the decision to preselect anti-trans activist Katherine Deves in Warringah, and is pushing the government to use the budget this month to focus on women’s issues.