The Liberal Party is scrambling to finalise candidates to run in almost 20 seats across NSW just a month out from the state election, including in the independent-held electorate of Kiama.
While Labor has a handful of electorates without a candidate, among the many seats the Liberals are yet to fill is the one held by former government minister-turned-independent Gareth Ward.
Ward, a long-time powerbroker in his area, was suspended from the parliament and the Liberal Party after he was charged with sexual assault. He has denied any wrongdoing and remains before the court where the matter is scheduled to be heard after the election. Ward is recontesting his seat.
The NSW division of the Liberal Party came under fire during the federal election campaign for significant delays in selecting candidates, including some that were chosen at the 11th hour.
Premier Dominic Perrottet vowed that he would not allow similar delays to plague his campaign, but the party has struggled to find suitable candidates for many seats.
Labor wants to finish preselections for all 93 lower house seats by Monday, ahead of nominations closing on March 8. The Liberals, however, are yet to field candidates in a host of seats, including Auburn, Bankstown, Granville, Port Stephens, Rockdale, Strathfield, Wyong and Blue Mountains.
The Liberals hope to finalise some seats at the weekend but will still have more than a dozen outstanding. Their Coalition partners, the Nationals, have had all candidates in place for some time.
Meanwhile, NSW Labor leader Chris Minns is backing a push to run former state cabinet minister Steve Whan in the southern electorate of Monaro, held by the Nationals.
Whan, who held Monaro from 2003 until Labor lost in a landslide in 2011, is seen by the party as its best chance to win the seat following former NRL Canberra Raiders player Terry Campese’s shock withdrawal as the ALP candidate. Campese quit after it emerged that he had attended a risque party while scantily clad.
The Nationals had identified Monaro, once held by former deputy premier John Barilaro, as one of its most at-risk seats when Campese was running, and Labor is desperate to win it.
A captain’s pick is also likely in the safe Labor seat of Fairfield, as federal energy minister Chris Bowen moves to install his preferred candidate, former Australian Federal Police agent David Saliba.
A senior Labor source confirmed Whan and Saliba “both enjoy the support of Minns”.
Asked when the Liberals would announce a candidate for Kiama, Perrottet said it was a matter for the party and refused to rule out preferencing Ward.
“There’s obviously 93 seats to fill, so my expectation is as soon as possible,” Perrottet said. “I don’t set those arrangements, that’s a matter for the organisation. Obviously, the Liberals intend on running in all the seats that we have in the past.”
Perrottet said both parties were working through their preselection processes and pointed out that the Labor Party had not yet selected a candidate to contest his electorate.
“I am the member for Epping, Labor doesn’t have a candidate in Epping,” he said.
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