ABC election analyst Antony Green is projecting a former New South Wales Liberal MP, who was previously suspended from parliament because he is facing indecent and sexual assault charges, will be re-elected.
- Former Liberal MP Gareth Ward is projected to be re-elected as an independent
- Mr Ward has pled not-guilty to charges of indecent and sexual assault
- Incoming Premier Chris Minns has previously indicated he would support a motion to suspend him from parliament while his legal matter is resolved
Now an independent, Gareth Ward is ahead of Labor’s candidate for the south coast seat of Kiama by 615 votes.
Labor’s Katelin McInerney was leading the contest earlier in the week, but Mr Ward pulled ahead after pre-poll votes and distribution of preferences tipped in his favour.
“We don’t have a preference count for the postals, but once available it will boost Ward to around 51.2 per cent,” Green said.
“With 79.1 per cent of the vote counted and another 1,000 postal votes returned and yet to be counted, Mr Ward can’t be caught by his Labor opponent at this stage.”
Ms McInerney has already called Mr Ward to concede.
“As the counting continues it has become clear that Labor will not win the seat of Kiama,” she said.
“While the result is disappointing, I am incredibly proud of the positive and disciplined campaign we have run.”
Mr Ward was charged last year with one count of sexual intercourse without consent, three counts of assault with an act of indecency, and one count of common assault.
Police allege he indecently assaulted a 17-year-old boy at Meroo Meadow in February 2013, and sexually abused a 27-year-old man in Sydney in September 2015.
The 41-year-old has always strenuously denied the allegations and entered a not-guilty plea in the Nowra District Court on Tuesday.
In May last year Mr Ward was suspended from the NSW Parliament when he refused to resign over the allegations, however, that suspension ended when the parliament entered caretaker mode last month.
Incoming Labor Premier Chris Minns has previously indicated he would support a motion to again suspend Mr Ward from parliament if he was re-elected but has declined to comment more recently until after the result is known.
But constitutional law expert Ann Twomey said it would be “problematic” to keep him suspended from parliament.
Professor Twomey said a legal challenge to any fresh suspension order could pose difficult questions for the courts.
“As we know, when a person is charged it may take a long time for that to be resolved,” she said.
“If you are suspending someone for a long period of time that has the effect of disenfranchising, or at least removing, a representative of the local community.
Liberal support despite suspension
Mr Ward has held the seat of Kiama for 12 years and as a member of the Liberal Party he held it by a margin of 12 per cent.
Some senior party members have criticised the decision to parachute in Melanie Gibbons, the ousted MP for Holsworthy, as a last-minute Liberal candidate.
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“This decision has angered many locals, including Liberals, who would prefer to leave a clear run for Ward as an independent until his legal matter is resolved,” said Kiama’s Liberal Executive Committee president Mark Croxford in a tweet.
“Many believe that the Liberal Party’s decision to ignore the wishes of the community has contributed to the collapse of their vote in the area.”
Although Liberal Party members were unable to hand out ‘how to vote’ cards for Mr Ward, a number of them did have corflute signs on their fences.
Some said they had offered Ms Gibbons space on their fence also, however, the corflutes never arrived.