Liberal HQ Drops Mayor

By Bev Jordan

Hills Shire Mayor Michelle Byrne may run as an Independent candidate for the post of Hills Mayor in the December 4th Local Government Elections after being dumped from the Liberal ticket by the Liberal State Executive in favour of North Ward councillor Peter Gangemi.

Several current Liberal councillors also failed to win endorsement in what is considered a factional dispute within the NSW Liberal party.

Dr Byrne told the Hills to Hawkesbury Community News on Wednesday: “I haven’t ruled out running as an Independent. “If I felt there was a lot of community support I would consider it.”

She refused to be drawn on discussing the matter further.

The debate has been raging this week after reports in News Corp that the Liberal’s Executive council approved a Liberal ticket to stand at the forthcoming Hills Local Government Election that did not include several sitting Hills councillors who had been nominated to run.

Usually, candidates are selected by members of the local branches. Nominations were submitted to the NSW Liberal Party earlier in the year in time for the September 4th Local Government Elections which have been postponed to December 5th due to COVID.

It was the State Liberal Party’s Local Government Oversight Committee that selected the Hills Shire Council candidates, saying there wasn’t time for the local branches to undergo the usual selection process. The list was approved by a majority vote of the State Executive.

The result was declared on Monday with Dr Peter Gangemi endorsed as the Liberal Candidate for the Mayoral election. Only two current Hills councillors, Frank De Masi and Reena Jethi were re-endorsed to stand but in different wards, to the ones, they represent now.

Nothing has been officially confirmed but it seems missing out on endorsement are Deputy Mayor Sam Uno and Alan Haseldon from East Ward; Liz Russo from Central Ward, Mike Thomas from West Ward and Brooke Collins from North Ward. Jacob Jackson in West Ward had decided not to stand for a second term.

Nominations to the Electoral Commission for Mayor and councillors for all Local Government Areas in NSW open on Monday (October 25th) and close at noon on Wednesday, November 3. It is understood that the Liberal State Executive will be selecting candidates for many Local Government Areas on the same grounds including the City of Parramatta.

NSW Liberal President Philip Ruddock spoke to the Hills to Hawkesbury Community News on Wednesday and said that the State Executive was always the final arbiter for all endorsements. He said the State Executive would be releasing the proposed Liberal ticket but couldn’t talk about it until the selection process had been concluded. He said there was no entitlement (to seats).

“There is a process and sitting councillors may or may not be endorsed.”

Hornsby Liberal branches did make a selection of councillors which went to the State Executive for endorsement. Mr Ruddock has been endorsed to stand on the Open-minded ticket as Mayor of Hornsby again.

It is also understood that Liberal branches in Hawkesbury LGA have selected candidates to be endorsed.

Michelle Byrne has been a member of the Liberal for 17 years and has been a councillor since 2008. She has been deputy Mayor twice and in 2012 became the Shire’s youngest Mayor at the age of 33. She has been Mayor three times.

In 2017 she became the Shire’s first popularly elected Mayor when residents were given the right to vote in the Mayor instead of councillors. She gained 61.78 % of the vote (53,409 votes). Peter Gangemi has represented North Ward at Hills Shire Council since 2012. He has been a Liberal party member for 15 years.

The Hills Local Government Conference which represents the 12 Local Hills Open-minded branches will be meeting online this Monday (October 18th) to discuss the situation. Baulkham Hills MP David Elliott is understood to have been inundated with complaints from local residents and party members about the way Liberal Party head office has treated the popular Mayor.

He said: “The current Mayor and council has served us exceptionally well. I encourage ratepayers to reflect on that when they consider future candidates.”