Berejiklian tried to woo her,but now Judy Hannan looms as a threat to Libs

The independent candidate vying for a southern highlands seat was asked by then-premier Gladys Berejiklian to run for the Liberal Party in the 2019 election,but says her membership was rejected by factional powerbrokers in favour of today’s incumbent Nathaniel Smith.

Four years on,the teal-aligned campaign of Judy Hannan,who is backed by Climate 200,now threatens to snatch votes from one of the Liberal party’s most strident right-wing warriors in the seat of Wollondilly.

Four days from polling day,election watchers suggest the semi-rural electorate could be a “sleeper” seat,where the independent threat has swelled unnoticed while all eyes have been on more prominent teal campaigns in metropolitan seats on Sydney’s north shore.

“Teal is just a colour:” Independent Judy Hannan (left) accepted Climate 200 funding but says she is not a teal.

“Teal is just a colour:” Independent Judy Hannan (left) accepted Climate 200 funding but says she is not a teal.James Alcock

Hannan,who says she espouses the values of fellow Climate 200-backed candidates but does not define herself as a teal,concedes she is the classic female candidate the Liberal Party has lost to the independent movement in recent years.

“I probably should have been[a Liberal],” she said. “It’s a shame. In all parties,it’s the same. They don’t stick to their word and are controlled by factions.”

As a former member of the Liberal Party,Hannan said Berejiklian asked her to rejoin the party ahead of the 2019 poll,but she failed to secure support of local branches and Smith was preselected to run and win the seat.

“Gladys called a couple of times,telling me how it would work if I rejoined,” Hannan said. “There were a couple of other members around trying to help. I’ve seen her since ... I admire what she did during COVID.”

Berejiklian did not respond to a request for comment.

Hannan ran in the 2019 election as an independent against Smith,securing more than 20 per cent of first preference votes. Smith goes to the polls on Saturday on a margin of 6 per cent.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian voting in Willoughby in the 2019 election.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian voting in Willoughby in the 2019 election.Dean Sewell

While Hannan says she has received financial donations from members of both major parties,including Liberals who have defected,her opponents say she is only running because she is a perennial candidate.

Although independent since 2009,Hannan first ran as a Liberal candidate for the seat of Auburn in 2001,and then Granville in 2003. In 2007,she was unsuccessful in a bid to be the Liberal candidate for Wollondilly,before resigning from the party to join the Nationals. She is currently an independent councillor for Wollondilly Shire Council.

“I realised you can get a lot done by standing for politics. I’m an optometrist by trade. I ran for council as an independent and have been independent ever since,” Hannan said.

She pointed to poor roads,a lack of infrastructure and a government decision to fast-track rezoning for almost 13,000 houses in a critical koala habitat as key issues for Wollondilly.

“We are getting run over by development and no infrastructure. This electorate is as big as the whole Sydney metropolitan area,and we only have two high schools. Some of the developments don’t even have a plan for water or sewage,” she said.

Smith brushed off a possible threat from Hannan in the seat,which stretches from Camden and Campbelltown to the Southern Highlands,insisting he was concerned only about his own campaign:“I’m not worried about others,” he said.

Wollondilly MP Nathaniel Smith (right) is the NSW government whip.

Wollondilly MP Nathaniel Smith (right) is the NSW government whip.Kate Geraghty

“I put my name up for preselection[in 2019] and I was chosen. The issues in Wollondilly are very different to other areas of Sydney and the north of Sydney. We’ve got a plan for the area,a plan for new schools,new roads and a plan for infrastructure and no one else does.”

The Wollondilly electorate takes in Warragamba Dam,where the Coalition’s controversial proposal to raise the wall by 14 metres to mitigate flood risk has become a political football in the state election.

NSW Labor leader Chris Minns took his campaign bus to the dam on Tuesday to call out the proposal after budget figures showed the Coalition had not allocated funding for the mega project.

Minns said the dam wall,metros and the Beaches Link tunnel make up $50 billion in uncosted major infrastructure Premier Dominic Perrottet is taking to the election. He said the figures prove that the government’s infrastructure pipeline was impossible without further privatisation.

“There’s no increase in debt. They haven’t provided any savings measures. So,there’s only one way to build it,and that is to sell off essential assets owned by the people of NSW,” he said.

The Labor leader was also under pressure to justify his signature policy to scrap the public sector wages cap of up to 3.5 per cent after the budget office cast doubt on Labor’s ability to make good on the promise.

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Lucy Cormack is a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age,based in Dubai.

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