A high-profile NSW Liberal woman is quitting to run as an independent at the next federal election, partly to protest the handling of an internal complaint in which she alleged “inappropriate” behaviour by some senior men within the party and government.
Natalie Baini, a lawyer and sports administrator who nominated as a Liberal candidate for the marginal Sydney seat of Reid in May, is withdrawing from the preselection process and quitting the party to run as an independent.
Her decision is also due to her concerns about the preselection process, with expectations growing the Liberals will not allow a ballot of members in the seat that would have seen her compete against the sitting moderate MP, Fiona Martin.
Baini, who advised the party on Monday that she would be withdrawing from the preselection race and cancelling her membership, told Guardian Australia she had initially decided to nominate after being approached by party faithful unhappy with their representation in Canberra.
She accused the Morrison government of paying “lip service” to women’s issues, saying she had raised “serious concerns” with the NSW state division about the alleged conduct of some senior individuals in the party, and she was yet to receive a response.
“It is astonishing the level of dismissiveness with which those concerns have been met,” Baini said.
“At the same time, I see a government paying lip service to this notion of respect at work and the protection of women and I believe that the concerns that I have raised have caused the party to sweep yet another critical issue under the rug.”
Baini did not want to discuss the details of the complaint made to the NSW division, other than it related to the alleged “inappropriate conduct of some senior members of the party and the government”.
“The party failed to respond adequately at all,” Baini said.
“I am a fair person. I could have accepted that following a thorough investigation, the findings did not come down in my favour. However, despite a number of reports that suggest an investigation was conducted and that it reached a conclusion, I received absolutely no requests for input into that investigation, which is astonishing.”
It is understood the NSW division responded to Baini’s complaints – three years after her initial complaint – but found the behaviour was outside the scope of the party’s code of conduct.
The self-described “lifelong Liberal”, who was previously vice president of the Reid branch, said she had struggled with the decision to withdraw from the preselection race and quit the party she had supported for 40 years.
She first joined as a member aged 16 in the mid-1990s and has been involved in every election since, including as co-manager of the 2016 campaign of former sitting Liberal MP Craig Laundy.
But Baini said once it became clear the Liberal party was not going to allow the preselection process to go ahead, she made the decision to run to offer an option to “traditional Liberal voters” in the seat.
“The reason I have withdrawn from the preselection process is because it is entirely unreasonable and infeasible that a candidate for an upcoming election would be preselected now, given the various challenges the government is facing, and certainly the uphill battle it is facing in Reid.
“I believe that nominations were sought in bad faith by the party and I am calling it out.”
Frustration has been building in the NSW division over the failure of the party to finalise preselections in a raft of other seats in NSW, including Hughes, Gilmore, Parramatta, Warringah, Bennelong, Dobell, Eden-Monaro, Fowler and Greenway.
Baini said there was unhappiness among conservative Liberals in the seat about the issues being pursued by Martin in Canberra, who has become one of a group of outspoken moderate MPs agitating for more action on climate change.
At the time of Martin’s endorsement ahead of the 2019 election, the Daily Telegraph reported that the “captain’s pick” faced “strong opposition among the conservatives” on state executive, with the party needing to vote on whether to waive a requirement for a candidate to have been a financial member of the party for at least six months.
“Chief among the concerns of the four voting against the waiver were Martin’s Facebook posts in favour of pill testing, legalising abortion, and cheering on Donald Trump’s fiercest political rivals Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren,” the Daily Telegraph reported at the time.
Baini, who also identifies as a moderate, said climate action was important but she did not see it as a priority issue in “one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse electorates in Australia”.
“It’s not that there’s an issue with moderate views, it is our local member believing that the causes being championed by the so-called Modern Liberals are of the highest priority to the people of Reid,” Baini said.
“We are an aspirational electorate that is very concerned with the recovery of business in the area. The infrastructure that is required for families to do well in Reid has been largely neglected, whether that is physical infrastructure, business infrastructure, or social infrastructure, we have been heavily underrepresented.
“I will be campaigning on a return to business strength in Reid. I’ll be campaigning on better support for families. And I will be campaigning on better infrastructure for Reid and a deeper engagement with multicultural communities.”
Baini said she anticipated she would draw support from within the Liberal party in the local area and would secure backing from community groups she is involved with.
She resigned her position as the AFL’s cultural diversity manager on Friday to focus on campaigning full time for the seat.
Baini, whose family is prominent in the Lebanese community, sits on the advisory board of St Patrick’s College Strathfield, is a former club president of the Concord Giants AFL club, is former co-chair of the Canada Bay Canons Football Club, and is a prominent member of St Martha’s Catholic Parish in Strathfield.
On the prime minister Scott Morrison’s response to women’s issues, Baini said her own experience was emblematic of a deeper issue within the party, which she said was of concern to many Liberal women.
“Many women who make up the rank and file of the party are certainly uncomfortable with the government’s narrative and lack of genuine concern on this issue,” Baini said.
“More importantly it impacts women outside of the party. And my concern is for the people, not just in Reid, but all Australians.”
A Liberal party spokesperson told Guardian Australia: “Nominations are dealt with in accordance with our constitution, and this applies equally to all potential candidates. All individuals who nominate are subject to the same process.”
“The division had provided the individual with a comprehensive response. Given the person had requested their approach be treated confidentially, which we have respected, we are unable to provide any further information.”