THE Liberal Party’s Newcastle council election campaign is in tatters, after candidates were dumped and campaigning suspended for the second time in less than a week.
On Tuesday night the party moved to disendorse all of its candidates in Ward 4 after discovering more “irregularities” in nomination forms submitted to the NSW Electoral Commission.
Hannah Eves, the Liberal Party’s number one candidate in the ward, will be dropped along with Daniel Collard and Hanan Nasser.
The Newcastle Herald understands that they’re also likely to be suspended from the party.
It’s another major blow to the Liberal Party’s election hopes, and comes less than a week after lord mayoral candidate David Compton and his Ward 3 ticket were dumped from the campaign over a similar issue with nomination form “irregularities”.
It means that the Liberal Party will now only run endorsed candidates in Wards 1 and 2, and will certainly have a decreased presence on the city council next term.
While the candidate’s digressions were relatively minor, and relate to the witnessing of statutory declarations, Liberal Party headquarters decided to send a message it wouldn't accept any departure from election rules.
In a statement, a party spokesman said the community “rightly expects all candidates for elected office to conduct themselves as model individuals”.
He said the Liberal Party “will not hesitate to take action where those standards are not met”.
The election turmoil began when the Herald revealed on Friday that the party had disendorsed and suspended Mr Compton and two other Ward 3 candidates, Danielle Brown and Colleen Hodges.
In a statement released late last Friday night the NSW Liberal Party said it had discovered “irregularities” in an official nomination form lodged with the NSW Electoral Commission and would cease campaigning in Ward 3 and for the lord mayoralty.
The Herald can now reveal the “irregularities” related to Ms Brown’s nomination form, which was signed while she was on an overseas trip in Italy.
Candidate nomination forms include a statutory declaration signed by a justice of the peace.
In NSW a statutory declaration can only be witnessed if both parties are “physically present together” at the time of signing, and an authorised witness cannot sign a statutory declaration without seeing the face of the declarant.
In Ms Brown’s case, the justice of the peace was Ms Hodges, the secretary of the Newcastle Liberal Party and its number four candidate in Ward 3.
It’s understood Mr Compton was suspended because of his role facilitating the arrangement.
Contacted by the Herald on Tuesday, Ms Brown admitted she had used an app to sign the forms electronically, and had not been in the country when the nomination was submitted.
But the Herald also accessed copies of the nomination forms for Liberal Party candidates across the wards which reveal that Ms Hodges acted as a witness for at least six other candidates.
When the Herald contacted Ms Hodges to ask whether she had witnessed forms without the candidate’s being present she refused to answer questions and said it was “none of your business”.
However Daniel Collard, the party’s number two candidate in Ward 4, admitted he had not been present when Ms Hodges signed the statutory declaration, and that his form had been picked up from his home by Ms Eves.
When contacted by the Herald Ms Eves said she had not broken any rules and had “done the right thing”.
Half-an-hour later the Herald received a call from Mr Collard who sought to retract his previous comments.
He said that he had been “confused” and that in fact he had attended Ms Hodges’ home with Ms Eves when the documents were signed.
However the statutory declaration on his nomination form states that it was declared at his residential address in New Lambton.
When asked by the Herald where Ms Hodges lived, Mr Collard said he couldn’t remember.
Then, when the Herald asked if he’d been told to change his story he said “I have to go now” and ended the call.
Despite being disendorsed, Ms Eves will still appear on the ballot on polling day because nominations have closed.
Like Mr Compton she would be able to take her position on the council if elected, unless her eligibility was successfully challenged in the court of disputed returns.