Amalgamations? Liberal candidate says she knows voters’ true anger

The Liberal North Shore byelection candidate Felicity Wilson has downplayed the unpopularity of council amalgamations and is banking on voters being angrier about traffic on Military Road as she seeks election in the seat held for the Liberals by Jillian Skinner for 23 years.

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“It’s traffic, traffic, traffic, is what I’m getting everywhere,” Ms Wilson said. “Traffic, public transport, the impacts of traffic. It’s not surprising given that Military Road is one of the worst roads in our state.”

Fortunately for Ms Wilson, Premier Gladys Berejiklian last week announced plans for geotechnical drilling on a proposed Balgowlah to Warringah Freeway tunnel, which would bypass Military Road, just in time for the byelection.

Thursday’s close of nominations saw the candidate field for the North Shore byelection on April 8 narrowed to eight, with just three independents standing, including anti-amalgamations campaigner and Mosman councillor Carolyn Corrigan and former Crown solicitor and trade practices lawyer Ian Mutton.

After an unsuccessful tilt at Brad Hazzard’s nearby seat of Wakehurst in 2015, Silvana Nile, wife of Christian Democratic Party leader Fred Nile, is also standing for the North Shore seat, calling herself “the only true conservative candidate” in the field.

She cited the Christian Democrats’ opposition to council amalgamations as a key vote-winner.

Many of the candidates view council amalgamations as the central byelection battleground, given the local unpopularity of the government’s policy. Mosman and North Sydney Councils are in an ongoing legal fight against a forced merger with Willoughby.

Ms Wilson supported council amalgamations when she worked for the Property Council.

But she denied the issue was the vote-changer her opponents believe, saying there was a wide range of views in the community on amalgamations, including many who believed North Sydney council should be merged following its “governance issues and history of dysfunction”.

She defended the government’s six years of inaction on the north shore’s traffic problem.

“Well we had to spend a few years righting the budget. As you’ve seen, Gladys was the first person to get the budget into surplus in 20 years after Labor’s long deficit. Now the economy and the budget is in a strong place, we can go ahead and make the infrastructure investments prioritised across the state.”

Local doctor Stephen Ruff and North Sydney mayor Jilly Gibson withdrew their candidacies ahead of Thursday’s close of nominations, narrowing the field of independent challengers who are likely to split an anti-Liberal protest vote.

Ms Gibson said she made the 11th-hour decision to withdraw due to an unwell family member. It came as a full-page advertisement spruiking her campaign ran in the Mosman Daily on Thursday.

Ms Gibson threw her support behind Mr Mutton’s independent campaign, saying they shared “a similar vision for the lower north shore”.

Mr Mutton said locals felt they had been taken for granted for too long by the Liberals and even if he did not win, a significant swing away from the Liberals was a good start.

“I know this runs fundamentally against what every independent says, which is ‘I’m going to win’, but if we move this seat to an at-risk seat then we would have achieved an enormous amount for the electorate,” he said.

The three independents scored the top three spots on the ballot in Thursday’s ballot draw, with Ms Wilson in number four.

Labor is not running a candidate.

The Greens candidate Justin Alick said his party was looking at preference deals with all independents and the Christian Democrats, despite “numerous very big philosophical differences”, because of common ground on issues like council amalgamations and privatisation.

“I think there’s a definite appetite for change in this community and the Greens have come second in the two party-preferred vote for the last several elections in a row, we are the opposition here,” Mr Alick said.

The Greens will announce this weekend at a Transport Forum in Mosman their support for a Spit Bridge tunnel, but only if it’s a train tunnel.

“We recognise that the reason there are traffic jams, the reason people are sitting in their cars and wasting hours of their lives every day, is because there’s no viable alternative than getting behind the wheel. It would be less expensive than a six- or eight-lane car tunnel, and it has much greater capacity than a car tunnel.”

“The proposal we have at the moment is only good for Transurban. I think the community has had enough of government for Transurban.”

with Lisa Visentin