Conflicting statements from different levels of the NSW Liberal Party have led to serious questions over what restrictions are placed on candidates contesting the March election in “no hope” seats.
Stephan Gyory, the President of the Darlinghurst Business Partnership told City Hub that the Liberal candidate for the seat of Sydney, Patrice Pandeleos, was unable to attend a debate that was being held in conjunction with the Potts Point Partnership because of “a blanket ban on new candidates participating in debates”.
“I’ve been told this directly by a Liberal worker,” Mr Gyory said.
At the time of publication an invitation has also been extended by the Alternative Media Group for the candidate to participate in a similar debate with her attendance yet to be confirmed.
City Hub called Ms Pandeleos to inquire as to the truth of the claim but was referred to the office of Tony Nutt, the head of the NSW branch of the Liberal Party.
“I’m not authorised to speak about their policies on any of that,” Ms Pandeleos said.
After unsuccessfully attempting to directly contact Mr Nutt, calls were made to other high ranking members of the NSW branch.
“As I understand it, head office has rules for all candidates,” one unnamed senior source said.
“I know they can’t have a twitter account, but that’s the only thing I can say for certain. The state director, Tony Nutt, he sets the rules,” they continued.
Tony Nutt, John Howard’s former principal private secretary, was appointed as the state director of the Liberal Party soon after the resignation of Barry O’Farrell while the party was in damage control.
Eventually City Hub was informed that a spokesperson would field the questions rather than Mr Nutt. The claims of strict controls were categorically denied.
“There’s no process that the candidates have to go through before attending events,” the spokesperson said.
“Just like any other candidate when they get any invitation whether it be for a community forum or to attend a citizenship ceremony, they have to go through their schedule and see what they can fit in there.”
“There is no formal decree from head office banning them from attending debates and community forums.”
The spokesperson also firmly denied that candidates were not allowed to use twitter as was said to be certain by the senior Liberal source.
“It’s not a party rule that they can’t have twitter accounts,” they said.
When City Hub took this information back to the Pandeleos team, the responses contrasted with those of the state office.
“We just have to inform them of what we’re doing to make sure it’s okay,” her campaign manager, Chris Abood, said about the upcoming Alternative Media Group debate.
When asked about the Potts Point Partnership debate invitation that was declined, Mr Abood said “it was decided that Patrice had other things to do that night.”
“We’re focused on the Mike Baird Plan and we go through head office to make sure we’re concentrating on that one message. She’s got a lot of stuff to do,” he said.
Mr Abood pointed out that all the candidates were active on Facebook when asked about restrictions concerning social media.
“It was decided by head office that the best way to contact people is via a Facebook account,” he said.
Mr Abood said that Facebook was the personal choice of Pandeleos, but when pressed on whether a Twitter account in her name could be established hypothetically, he said “well we already have other accounts tweeting on her behalf anyway,” and would not comment further.
These events came on the same day that other local media reported that the Liberal candidate for the seat of Balmain, Lyndon Gannon, had disclosed to them that it was expected that candidates who had never held a seat would not attend debates.
The oddly low profile of three inner city candidates – the third being the Liberal candidate for Newtown, Rachael Wheldall – has come to the fore as the election draws closer and the number of public debates and forums increases.
Stephan Gyory who is convinced that the state branch is pulling strings said that it is counterintuitive to a healthy election.
“How can the Liberal Party expect the electorate to trust their candidate when they don’t even trust her to speak to us in public,” he said.
“If you’re going to put a candidate up, you’ve got to put them out there, some of them will fail, and that’s fine.”