The New South Wales premier, Dominic Perrottet, has denied his party is mounting a coordinated defence against teal independents by installing high profile Liberal women as candidates in at-risk seats.
Two female upper house ministers have announced their hope to run in the lower house, including the metropolitan roads minister, Natalie Ward, who on Tuesday announced her intention to run in Davidson.
Natasha Maclaren-Jones has also confirmed she would seek preselection for Pittwater, after Rob Stokes joined a growing list of colleagues retiring at the March election.
The premier said it was not part of a concerted push but was “a great outcome for great local communities”.
“They’ve had strong local representation and to have two ministers in the government wanting to run for the legislative assembly and represent their local communities … is a wonderful thing,” Perrottet said, adding he believed the lower house was where the “real game” was.
“I want more women putting their hands up to run for parliament and to be in the cabinet.”
Ward, who has served in the upper house since 2017, is seeking to contest the northern beaches seat being vacated by retiring speaker Jonathan O’Dea.
“As an experienced member of cabinet, I believe that I can provide the people of Davidson a strong voice in parliament,” she said on Tuesday.
Liberal electorates in Sydney’s north are expected to face challenges from independents, after a group of high-profile teal MPs won seats from sitting Liberals in the federal election in May.
Earlier in the week, Perrottet downplayed the independent challenger threat, saying the backlash against the federal Coalition “was based on policy”.
“When it comes to integrity, when it comes to women and when it comes to climate, on those key issues the NSW government leads the way,” he said.
But RedBridge Group pollster and former Labor strategist Kos Samaras said the NSW Liberals should be worried with early polling showing a strong teal sentiment across Sydney.
“They need to be extremely concerned,” he said. “In Victoria, we expect teals to do OK [at the upcoming state election] but I anticipate, because the Liberal party is in government, that the teal independents will do much better in Sydney come March next year.
“There’s a significant collapse in the Liberal primary.”
Samaras, who provided polling for the federal teal campaigns, said the Liberals needed to be worried about multiple Sydney seats, including Manly and Pittwater.
He said if the NSW Liberals were trying to head off the independent threat by preselecting senior women as candidates for the seats, they could be putting too much stock in the gendered aspect of the federal teal swing.
“It’s really not about gender, it’s about brand identification,” he said. “There is a growing sentiment within the electorate that these voters no longer identify with the conservatives. The problem for these Liberal candidates is the brand.”
Federal Wentworth MP Allegra Spender said her win, as well as those of her fellow teal independents, had sent a message about what communities wanted.
“The election of myself and other community independents at the federal level sent a clear message that women will be represented – ignore us at your peril,” she said.
“Women expect equal representation across all the parliaments and parties of the land. The other key message from the election is that the communities want representatives who puts community interests first, not the party interests.”
The Independent Pittwater campaign been encouraging locals to consider running in the seat, likely against Maclaren-Jones who enjoys the support of the treasurer, Matt Kean, and Perrottet.
Campaign spokesperson Rebecca Clarke said there was “huge local appetite for a different kind of political representation”.
“We are searching for a local champion, someone committed to integrity, caring for our community and our local environment,” she said.