Northern Beaches mayor Michael Regan will stand as an independent candidate for the state seat of Wakehurst, with the Liberal Party viewing his nomination as a serious threat to their stranglehold on a clutch of north shore seats.
The mayor confirmed on Thursday he would run for the seat being vacated by outgoing Health Minister and Liberal elder Brad Hazzard. He is not a teal candidate.
Regan had more than 20 years experience in local government before he was elected mayor of the former Warringah Council in 2008.
He then became mayor of the Northern Beaches Council after the 2016 council amalgamations.
“The people of Wakehurst deserve a strong independent voice. They deserve a representative who has the interests of their community at heart. I have the experience of working with all parties at every level of government to deliver the best results,” Regan said.
His candidacy, which locals have described as the peninsula’s worst kept secret, threatens to thwart the political aspirations of Toby Williams, who was recently preselected as the Liberal candidate to replace the retiring Hazzard, in whose office he works.
As a hyper-local and involved community candidate, Williams, a director of Dee Why RSL club, is considered the party’s best chance against a sitting local mayor.
Liberal strategising for a Regan challenge has been underway for months, with early conversations having already taken place to ensure Regan would vote with the Coalition to help it secure a majority, in the case of a victory.
The start of the looming contest for Sydney’s north shore electorates was not lost on political observers at the Northern Beaches citizenship ceremony on Australia Day, where Regan, as mayor and MC, was joined by Williams, who was representing Hazzard.
Environment Minister and incumbent Manly MP James Griffin and Liberal candidate for Pittwater Rory Amon, who is facing teal challenger Jacqui Scruby in his bid to replace outgoing senior minister Rob Stokes, also attended the ceremony.
“Planning and preparation for Regan running has been in the works for a couple of months, so it’s not surprising,” said one Liberal MP, not authorised to speak publicly about party strategy.
“We will still put on a huge fight in Wakehurst. Brad will play a big role in that, and we are preparing for all outcomes.”
Premier Dominic Perrottet said on Thursday his government had a great track record in all its seats across the state, insisting it was the Coalition’s long-term plan that will “keep NSW moving”.
With fewer than 60 days until the March poll, the Liberal Party has finalised candidates in almost all key seats. However, it remains without representation in more than 20 seats, including NSW Labor leader Chris Minns’ ultra-marginal electorate of Kogarah.
Gaming industry whistleblower Troy Stolz has already announced he will run as an independent against Minns.
The latest Resolve Strategic polling for the Herald shows Labor ahead with a primary vote of 37 per cent, while the Coalition’s primary vote is on 34 per cent, down from the 42 per cent secured when Gladys Berejiklian won in 2019.
However, one-third of voters prefer Perrottet as premier over Minns, who is just behind on 29 per cent.
While the cost of living is expected to dominate the campaign, the premier has also been outspoken about his ambition to introduce statewide cashless gaming to curb record multibillion-dollar losses through pokies.
Although only 11 per cent of voters said Perrottet’s cashless gaming card proposal would influence their vote, the policy has proved popular in electorates like that of North Shore MP Felicity Wilson.
Wilson, who is the only female Liberal candidate running in the 11 seats north of the Harbour Bridge, will face teal challenger Helen Conway, who is backed by the community movement that launched federal teal MP Kylea Tink to Canberra.
Wilson this week seized on the premier’s proposed gaming reform in a letter to constituents insisting she was listening to the concerns of community members who regularly raised problem gambling with her.
“Our Liberal government, with Premier Dom Perrottet leading the charge, is committed to introducing cashless gaming, and we won’t be deterred by scare campaigns,” she wrote.
“NSW clubs play a role in many of our lives, and they’re provided a special status on the basis of a long-established social contract...but that social contract needs to be reassessed...we need to break our addiction to gambling. The stakes are too high.”
Perrottet is yet to release his full plan for the reform, while Labor says it will reduce poker machines and conduct a cashless gaming trial.