NSW Treasurer Matt Kean has bowed out of the contest to replace Dominic Perrottet as Liberal Party leader following the government’s thumping election defeat, fuelling speculation he will eventually attempt a switch to federal politics.
In a short statement on late Sunday afternoon, Kean said he had decided not to throw his “hat in the ring” for the NSW Liberal leadership, cutting the pool of potential contenders to four.
Right-wing Liberal Party stalwart and frontbencher Anthony Roberts, outgoing Sports Minister Alister Henskens, caretaker Attorney-General Mark Speakman and outgoing Environment Minister James Griffin are in the mix following Perrottet’s decision to stand aside.
“I have a young family and I would love to spend a little more time with them,” Kean said. “The election result will enable me to do that.
“Tommy [Kean’s son] recently turned three and now is the time for me to hang out and be a dad, while also continuing to serve my wonderful Hornsby constituents and the Liberal Party, though not as leader and not as part of the leadership team.”
Several Liberal insiders have suggested Kean was eyeing a move to Canberra, possibly contesting the seat of Bradfield, which is currently held by former communications minister Paul Fletcher, or the electorate of North Sydney, held by teal independent Kylea Tink.
Roberts, who fought off a teal challenge in his Sydney north shore seat of Lane Cove, earlier said he had been approached by colleagues to discuss his leadership prospects on Sunday morning, while the party’s organisational wing weathered scathing assessments of its handling of the 2023 poll.
As senior Liberal MPs and party members met on Sunday less than 24 hours after the defeat, many called for an urgent overhaul of the NSW Liberal Party’s constitution and blamed poor preselection processes as key to the loss.
“This election didn’t creep up on us. We knew four years ago when it was going to be. There needs to be a complete revamp of the party structure. The party needs to renew itself,” Roberts told the Herald.
“This morning I have been approached by multiple colleagues. I’m considering [putting my hand up]. I will talk to my wife before doing anything. All I’m being told is we need someone to lead the party to iron out our differences. I’m happy to be the person that would deliver a clear way forward.”
Henskens also declined to comment on Sunday while all efforts were focused on scrutinising and counting votes in seats that could still be in play.
Speakman did not respond to the Herald’s request, while Griffin said his focus was getting back to work for the people of Manly. However, he confirmed he had spoken to a number of colleagues on Sunday.
The upcoming leadership contest was expected to dominate discussion within the moderate faction when it met for Sunday afternoon drinks and a customary post-election “post-mortem”.
Late Sunday afternoon party officials were still awaiting results for about 15 seats too close to call until counting resumed on Monday, among them Goulburn, Holsworthy, Oatley, Kiama, Ryde, Winston Hills, Miranda, Willoughby, Pittwater and Wollondilly.
It has officially conceded Parramatta, Riverstone, South Coast and Wakehurst, all of which had retiring MPs. A party spokesman said they all suffered an average swing of 12 per cent.
As finger-pointing for the election loss took flight on Sunday, senior party members insisted failings of the organisation, along with a campaign strategy mirroring the failed 2022 federal campaign, were to blame.
One senior Liberal not authorised to speak publicly said responsibility lay in part with president Maria Kovacic, who took on the role following last year’s election which was plagued by factional warfare and protracted preselection battles.
“It was the president’s strategy. She was elected to not replicate the federal issues, and she hasn’t done that. So, the senior leaders of the executive, they’ll be the people branch presidents will be calling on to resign,” they said.
“It’s almost universal that the organisational wing has failed. I don’t think their positions are viable.”
Kovacic rejected the claims and said she was not interested in the views of “armchair critics.”
“We ran a disciplined campaign with people that were working very hard with a view to delivering good outcomes for our community and our party. What they have done should be respected and understood,” she said.
“Any organisation that does not have the outcome it wants needs to review and assess. That’s the normal process.”
Party insiders on Sunday said overhauling the candidate preselection process must be a priority for the organisational wing.
One senior Liberal who requested anonymity to speak freely said: “What our preselection system encourages are mediocre, factional white men who have the time and the obsession to court local branch members and put their real lives second.
“So, you end up with a bunch of candidates that look, sound, talk and act completely the same: Toby Williams [in Wakehurst], Jordan Lane [Ryde], Rory Amon [Pittwater]. It looks like Amon will win Pittwater, but it shouldn’t have come this close.”
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