Liberals blindsided in Sydney’s south-west by independent

NSW election 2023

Full election results

The NSW Liberal Party has been accused of failing to protect one of its most ardent right-wing warriors from an independent threat on Sydney’s south-western fringe, focusing instead on heartland coastal seats.

Former government whip Nathaniel Smith was dislodged as the Wollondilly member in an upset loss that further stokes anger within the party’s conservative ranks following the disastrous election result.

Former Wollondilly MP Nathaniel Smith (right) was the whip in the Perrottet government.

Kate Geraghty

Judy Hannan, who was courted by then-premier Gladys Berejiklian to run for the Liberal Party in the 2019 election, secured the Southern Highlands electorate on Tuesday, becoming the sole Climate 200-backed independent to emerge victorious in the state election.

Liberal sources not authorised to speak publicly said Smith had been left exposed by the party machine because it failed to warn him of internal polling showing he was at risk, and further claimed he was not provided sufficient resources or mail-outs.

“They didn’t take the independent threat in Wollondilly seriously. Instead, they spent too much time on northern Sydney,” said one party insider.

“It was a combination of One Nation running with no preferencing, no mail-outs and late delivery of how-to-vote cards two days after pre-poll began. It was a dog’s breakfast.”

Judy Hannan, left, with fellow independent candidates Alex Greenwich, Victoria Davidson, Joeline Hackman, Jacqui Scruby, and Helen Conway at their campaign launch.

James Alcock

They also said Smith’s campaign was “thrown under the bus” in the hand-out of WestInvest funding – $1.6 billion for 15 councils – from which Wollondilly only received 1 per cent.

“Matt Kean was the number one complaint at polling booths from conservative voters, saying he’s too woke. And they wentstraight to One Nation.”

Within hours of pundits calling the seat for Hannan, she told the she could see the writing on the wall for the former government when voters on Saturday approached her with one message: “They are sick of being taken for granted by political parties.”

Hannan also called out the lack of funding the former government committed to the electorate through WestInvest, despite it covering an area as large as metropolitan Sydney.

“As big as Sydney and we only have two high schools. We get the same things promised over and over again but never delivered. The community felt they didn’t have a voice,” she said.

Ailing roads, tired health services and a lack of infrastructure to support the ballooning growth region of Sydney were central to the independent’s campaign.

“Thousands of tiny little houses with all black roofs [stimulating] the urban heat island effect. People think it’s affordable to buy out here, but it’s not affordable to live here because they can’t travel to their jobs,” she said on Tuesday.

Hannan, who says she is not a teal but espouses the values of other Climate 200-backed candidates, has said she was a classic example of the female candidate the Liberal Party had lost to the independent movement.

“I probably should have been [a Liberal],” she told the last week.

As a former member of the Liberal Party, Hannan said Berejiklian asked her to rejoin before the 2019 poll, but she failed to secure the support of local branches and Smith was preselected to run and win the seat. Hannan ran in 2019 as an independent against him, securing more than 20 per cent of first preference votes.

Hannan previously ran as a Liberal candidate in Auburn and Granville before briefly joining the Nationals. She has been an independent since 2009 and is an independent councillor for Wollondilly Shire Council.

Wollondilly has been almost exclusively Liberal-held since its inception in 1950, apart from two terms – 1978 and 2007 – when it was won by Labor.

Liberal campaign sources on Tuesday said a 9 per cent swing to the independent (with 65 per cent of the votes counted) shows Labor’s campaign against any future privatisation of Sydney Water and the raising of the Warragamba Dam wall, which sits in the electorate, paid off.

Smith last week brushed off a possible threat from the independent, saying he was concerned only about his own campaign. He declined to comment on Tuesday after the seat was called for Hannan.

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