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Suspended Liberal MP Gareth Ward is so popular in his New South Wales south coast electorate he could be re-elected despite facing trial for sex crimes against two males – one of them a teenager. 

Ward, a factional ally of former premier Gladys Berejiklian, has the backing of many Liberal members in Kiama and is weighing up whether to seek re-election next year.

He has refused to resign from Parliament and appears to be setting himself to run as an independent, threatening the electoral chances of his former Liberal colleagues. 

Ward is yet to declare his intentions but has told supporters he is seriously considering another campaign for a seat he took from Labor and has safely held for 11 years.

Liberal MP Gareth Ward, pictured with former premier Gladys Berejiklian, was  suspended from Parliament and his party after he was charged with sex crimes against two males, 17 and 27. He is weighing up whether to seek re-election as an independent before he goes on trial

Liberal MP Gareth Ward, pictured with former premier Gladys Berejiklian, was  suspended from Parliament and his party after he was charged with sex crimes against two males, 17 and 27. He is weighing up whether to seek re-election as an independent before he goes on trial

Ward has refused to resign as the Member for Kiama and appears to be setting himself to run as an independent for Kiama at the upcoming NSW election. 'I'm continuing to get on with the job of working hard and getting things done for my local community,' he said

Ward has refused to resign as the Member for Kiama and appears to be setting himself to run as an independent for Kiama at the upcoming NSW election. ‘I’m continuing to get on with the job of working hard and getting things done for my local community,’ he said

‘I’m continuing to get on with the job of working hard and getting things done for my local community,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.

‘The election is still several months away but obviously I will have to turn my mind to that matter sooner rather than later and when I’m in a position to do so I’ll have something further to say.’ 

Ward is regularly pictured attending community functions, mixing with the Country Women’s Association and Rotary Club members, meeting teachers and local councillors and visiting sporting clubs and retirement villages. 

He holds Kiama with a margin of 12 per cent – having increased his vote at the past two elections – and is still a significant figure in Liberal branches in the Illawarra region. 

Daily Mail Australia understands Ward has commissioned polling in the electorate which suggests Labor would win if he did not run as an independent.

The same research indicates if the legally blind albino does run he would out-poll any Liberal candidate and after preferences were allocated would likely win.

Tony Emery from the Shoalhaven Business Chamber had no doubt Ward could beat anyone put up against him. 

‘I think Gareth is one of the best local representatives in the NSW Parliament,’ Mr Emery said. ‘He should be in the ministry.

‘I think if he runs as an independent he’ll win the seat quite easily. He’ll romp it in. And the Libs should not run against him. It’d be a travesty if they did.’

Some of Gareth Ward's electoral material features a colour scheme more like that adopted at the last federal election by the so-called 'teal' candidates who rolled six sitting Liberal MPs than the blue of his former party. Supporters say that is a coincidence

Some of Gareth Ward’s electoral material features a colour scheme more like that adopted at the last federal election by the so-called ‘teal’ candidates who rolled six sitting Liberal MPs than the blue of his former party. Supporters say that is a coincidence

Ward posed with Peter Poulos, Parliamentary Secretary for the Illawarra when the Liberal Upper House MP visited Kiama on August 2. 'Thank you Peter for taking the time to hear about important local issues,' Ward captioned that photograph on social media

Ward posed with Peter Poulos, Parliamentary Secretary for the Illawarra when the Liberal Upper House MP visited Kiama on August 2. ‘Thank you Peter for taking the time to hear about important local issues,’ Ward captioned that photograph on social media

Long-time local dairy farmer Robert Cochrane was just as forthright. 

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‘My personal feeling is that Gareth Ward’s got absolutely no problem being re-elected,’ Mr Cochrane said. 

‘Gareth has been so successful in getting projects commenced and completed. He’s just a wonderful dedicated politician.

‘I am innocent and intend to prove it’ says MP Gareth Ward 

Gareth Ward denied the sex crimes allegations in March as soon as he was released from police custody on bail.

‘While I strongly support the right of genuine victims to bring forward allegations, accused persons equally are entitled to the presumptions of innocence, have the right to refute allegations made against them and should be allowed the opportunity to defend themselves from claims that are simply untrue,’ he said.

‘I am innocent and intend to prove it. I have instructed my lawyers to use every available procedural avenue to bring this matter to trial as quickly as possible.’  

‘I think the Liberal Party might nominate someone to contest the seat but if Gareth does stand I think he’d overcome that nominee.’

Less than six months out from the March 25 election, the TAB has the Coalition at $2.85 to form government and Labor paying $1.40 to win. 

Ward stood down as Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services in May last year when he identified himself as the MP being investigated by the Child Abuse and Sex Crimes Squad.

He sat on the cross-bench until being charged in March with one count of sexual intercourse without consent, three counts of assault with an act of indecency and one of common assault. 

The charges relate to the alleged indecent assault of a 17-year-old youth at Meroo Meadow near Bomaderry in February 2013 and the alleged sexual assault of a 27-year-old man in Sydney in September 2015.

Ward has strenuously asserted his innocence in public statements and the 41-year-old has entered not guilty pleas in the NSW District Court.  

He has been suspended from the Liberal Party and Premier Dominic Perrottet demanded Ward resign from Parliament as soon as he was charged.

‘While Mr Ward is entitled to the presumption of innocence, as any citizen is, the standards expected of an elected Member of Parliament are not compatible with the seriousness of the charges he is facing,’ Mr Perrottet said at the time.

‘Should Mr Ward not resign, the government will move a motion to remove him from the Parliament.’

Mr Perrottet’s call came before he had received legal advice and it was later determined Ward could not be expelled ahead of his trial.

Ward was subsequently suspended – rather than permanently removed – from Parliament with bipartisan support. 

Ward was photographed officially opening new playground equipment at St Peter's Anglican Church at Shoalhaven Heads, stating 'I helped secure a government grant to assist' in a Facebook post on July 31

Ward was photographed officially opening new playground equipment at St Peter’s Anglican Church at Shoalhaven Heads, stating ‘I helped secure a government grant to assist’ in a Facebook post on July 31

Ward is yet to declare his intentions but has told supporters he is considering another campaign for a seat he took from Labor and has safely held for 11 years. He is pictured while Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services in Parliament in June 2020

Ward is yet to declare his intentions but has told supporters he is considering another campaign for a seat he took from Labor and has safely held for 11 years. He is pictured while Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services in Parliament in June 2020

The suspension stands ‘until the verdict of the jury has been returned on the five criminal charges laid against him’, according to the motion passed in Parliament.

In the meantime Ward cannot vote on legislation or even attend the parliamentary precinct but is still being paid, employs staff and has an electorate office.

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Under the terms of his suspension Ward also cannot visit schools in his seat.       

The electorate includes the municipality of Kiama, sections of Shellharbour and Shoalhaven local government areas as well as a small part of Wollongong. 

Some of Ward’s electoral material features a colour scheme more like that adopted at the last federal election by the so-called ‘teal’ candidates who rolled six sitting Liberal MPs than the blue of his former party. 

One supporter said the colour was chosen as a generic green representative of the benches in the Lower House of the Parliament rather than having any other significance. 

A brochure which boasts of Ward’s ability to secure government funding for community projects features green leaf motifs and the slogan ‘Working hard and getting results’. 

A brochure which boasts of Ward's ability to secure government funding for community projects features green leaf motifs and the slogan 'Working hard and getting results'

A brochure which boasts of Ward’s ability to secure government funding for community projects features green leaf motifs and the slogan ‘Working hard and getting results’

Ward’s trial is not expected to take place until well after the election and he might not make a decision about whether or not to run until Christmas.

Despite not being able to sit in Parliament and facing years in jail if convicted Ward appears to have been actively campaigning in Kiama and maintains strong local support. 

He was photographed officially opening new playground equipment at St Peter’s Anglican Church at Shoalhaven Heads, stating ‘I helped secure a government grant to assist’ in a Facebook post on July 31. 

On August 2 he posed with Peter Poulos, Parliamentary Secretary for the Illawarra when the Liberal Upper House MP visited Kiama.

‘Thank you Peter for taking the time to hear about important local issues,’ Ward captioned that photograph on social media. 

Ward, a born and bred south coast local who is also a lawyer, took what was a safe Labor seat in 2011 and was re-elected in 2015. He is pictured with his mother Margaret Bowcher

Ward, a born and bred south coast local who is also a lawyer, took what was a safe Labor seat in 2011 and was re-elected in 2015. He is pictured with his mother Margaret Bowcher 

His ongoing contact with government figures has led to speculation the Liberal Party has not entirely given up on Ward returning to the fold if he is acquitted at trial.   

Ward, a born and bred south coast local who is also a lawyer, first took what was once a Labor stronghold in 2011 and was re-elected in 2015.  

Liberal Party preselection nominations for Kiama remain open and will close ‘on the recommendation of the State Director’, a party document states.

More than 30 seats are still open for Liberal nominations but Ward’s supporters believe the party is holding off on choosing a candidate until he reveals his plans.

It is possible the Liberals would not run a candidate if Ward had a fourth tilt at the seat, and might expect him to largely vote in Parliament along their party lines. 

They could also run a candidate they do not expect to win and direct preferences to Ward, possibly in the hope he was cleared at trial and his party membership was restored. 

The 93-seat NSW Parliament is currently made up of 45 Coalition members, with 37 from Labor, three from the Greens, two from the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers and six independents. 

Opposition Leader Chris Minns announced two months ago that Labor’s candidate in Kiama would be former journalist, unionist and life-long local resident Katelin McInerney.

Mr Minns told 2GB’s Ray Hadley on August 24 that Labor would not give preferences to Ward ‘under any circumstances’. 

Mr Perrottet has not offered a similar guarantee the Liberals would not preference Ward if he were to run. 

‘It would be inappropriate to comment on this matter while there are criminal proceedings pending against Mr Ward,’ a spokesman for Mr Perrottet told Daily Mail Australia.

‘Matters relating to preselection and preferences for the 2023 election are for the NSW Liberal Party.’

NSW state elections are conducted on an optional preferential voting system whereby electors can choose to vote for only one candidate.

The NSW Liberal Party, which was contacted for comment, has traditionally only recommended a vote for its member but does sometimes list other candidates on its how to vote cards.

Opposition Leader Chris Minns (right) announced two months ago that Labor's candidate in Kiama would be former journalist, unionist and life-long local resident Katelin McInerney (left)

Opposition Leader Chris Minns (right) announced two months ago that Labor’s candidate in Kiama would be former journalist, unionist and life-long local resident Katelin McInerney (left)

While a date for Ward’s trial has not been set he is due to appear in Sydney’s Downing Centre on December 13 when two applications will be heard.

The Director of Public Prosecutions is trying to have the trial moved from Nowra, on the south coast, and Ward wants the allegations of the two complainants to be run separately. 

Ward has previously said he would like the trial to be heard as soon as possible and that it was ‘manifestly unfair and unreasonable’ that it would not be heard before the election.

‘I am frustrated, angry and disappointed that the matters involving the current criminal proceedings have continued to be unnecessarily delayed,’ he told Daily Mail Australia. 

‘I want these matters dealt with expeditiously and to date justice has been delayed and it has been denied.’ 

Premier Dominic Perrottet’s full statement on Gareth Ward 

Dominic Perrottet (above) came back from paternity leave while Paul Poole was acting in his job to call for Gareth Ward to resign when he was charged with sex offences

Dominic Perrottet (above) came back from paternity leave while Paul Poole was acting in his job to call for Gareth Ward to resign when he was charged with sex offences

The Member for Kiama Gareth Ward faces criminal charges following an extensive investigation by police and a review of the matter by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

While Mr Ward is entitled to the presumption of innocence, as any citizen is, the standards expected of an elected Member of Parliament are not compatible with the seriousness of the charges he is facing.

Following discussion with the Acting Premier, I have therefore attempted to contact the Kiama MP to seek his resignation from the Parliament with immediate effect.

Should Mr Ward not resign, the Government will move a motion to remove him from the Parliament.

I have also written to the State Director of the Liberal Party requesting that Mr Ward be suspended from the Party pending the outcome of the criminal trial against him.

Mr Ward is entitled to defend himself against the serious charges against him but he must do that as a private citizen.

The matter is now before the courts, and no further comment will be made.

Premier Dominic Perrottet: March 22, 2020

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