Simon Holmes à Court’s fundraising group Climate 200 is considering supporting as many as 10 candidates in the New South Wales election in March, as the state’s treasurer, Matt Kean, calls on his party to do more to select female Liberal candidates.
Climate 200 announced at the weekend it would back the business consultant Joeline Hackman in her bid to unseat the state’s environment minister, James Griffin, in Manly, and Holmes à Court told Guardian Australia there was no cap on the number of candidates the campaigning group could support.
“We know of about seven to 10 communities where independents’ groups are active and we’ve had very early discussions with most,” the businessman said.
“We don’t have a target [or] cap for the number of seats we will support in NSW but, as a relatively small organisation, we didn’t have the resources to support every worthy independent campaign in Victoria, and I’m sure it’ll be the same in NSW.”
Climate 200 has backed four independent candidates in the Victorian election this weekend, although the group’s financial assistance is restricted by laws that cap political donations in the state at $4,320 over a four-year period for a single donor.
There are similar restrictions in NSW, where third-party campaign groups are only able to spend up to $26,700 on individual seats. The state also has optional preferential voting, which means it will be “much harder” to replicate the teals’ federal success, according to the ABC’s chief election analyst, Antony Green.
While Holmes à Court was reluctant to name the NSW seats Climate 200 is considering backing, the group has been courted by a string of independents in the city’s east and northern beaches, including Pittwater, Wakehurst and Vaucluse.
All three of those seats will see the sitting MPs retire, including ministers Rob Stokes and Brad Hazzard and the former frontbencher Gabrielle Upton.
But Holmes à Court also did not rule out funding candidates in Labor-held seats, saying there was “no reason” the group would not support a “values-aligned, strong campaign”. He pointed out that the group was supporting Melissa Lowe against the Labor MP John Kennedy in Hawthorn in Victoria.
“Running a community independent campaign requires thousands of volunteer hours from a broad base of community members with a range of skills, which you’re unlikely to get unless the community feels taken for granted or poorly represented, and there’s no viable alternative on offer,” he said.
The government has been under pressure to increase the number of female MPs in the lower house. The Liberals now have only 10 women, including just one minister, who sit in the legislative assembly.
And despite a string of retirements, it has so far failed to boost that number. While the Liberals have preselected Kellie Sloan to replace Upton in Vaucluse, safe seats such as Ryde and South Coast – both held by retiring MPs – have been filled by men. So too in Pittwater, where the local councillor Rory Amon is expected to win preselection despite a current minister – Natasha Maclaren-Jones – previously expressing interest in moving to the lower house.
At the weekend Hazzard caused consternation when, during an interview with the ABC, he said while it would be “helpful” to have more female MPs, he asked: “Would you do that to the exclusion of getting good people in?”
On Monday Kean, a senior moderate MP, urged his party’s branch presidents to support more female preselections.
“We need to ensure that our parliamentary party is reflective of the community that we are wanting to serve,” he said. “Until we are reflective of the community, we can’t expect the community to be voting for us.”
Another minister, Natalie Ward, is contesting preselection for the seat of Davidson, vacated by the retiring speaker Jonathan O’Dea, against the former Mike Baird staffer Matt Cross.
On Monday Kean backed Ward to win the seat, calling her “a future leader for the Liberal party”.
Asked about Hazzard’s comments on Monday, Ward described him as a “mentor” and “great supporter of women”, insisting the party was having “brave conversations” on the need for more female representation.
“We’ve listened to the results federally. We know that we need more women in our party and in our parliament.”