From internet activist to captain’s pick: who is Katherine Deves?

She joined forces with an existing lobby group in New Zealand, Save Women’s Sport, to form an Australasian entity aimed at keeping trans women out of women’s and girls’ sport. Through that outfit she began appearing in the media, including an October 2020 article in The Australian.

In December of that year Deves opened a Twitter account, and throughout 2021 she made several appearances on Sky News and podcasts such as Feminist Question Time. Her Twitter was almost exclusively dedicated to anti-trans activism; in a previously unreported tweet from October 2021, she remarked about the Girl Guides’ trans inclusion policies.

“Anyone pushing a bizarre and controversial ideology on children is ‘coming after our kids’,” she wrote. “Our children do not need to be indoctrinated into the Rainbow Reich at their community extra-curricula [sic] activities.”

Deleted tweets by Liberal candidate for Warringah Katherine Deves.

Deleted tweets by Liberal candidate for Warringah Katherine Deves.Credit:

The Deves archive reveals a 44-year-old radical feminist whose politics on many issues is more progressive than conservative. In one video she laments that Julia Gillard was “hounded” out of office, bemoans the way female politicians are treated in Australia and regrets that the politician leading the charge against gender ideology in schools – presumably referring to One Nation’s Mark Latham – comes from “a party that is seen as extraordinarily right-wing”.

Deves appears to support same-sex marriage and promotes the trans-exclusionary LGB Alliance – she would fit fairly neatly into a category that other feminists and trans activists have labelled as “trans exclusionary radical feminist” or TERF.

A number of key themes emerge in Deves’ videos and tweets: that the rot can be traced back to the Gillard government including “gender identity” as a protected attribute in the Sex Discrimination Act; that Australia is on a trajectory a few years behind the United Kingdom and will soon wake up to the perniciousness of gender ideology; that the mainstream media is complicit in the advance of trans activism through our civic institutions; that pornography is a corrupting influence and has contributed to the whole situation.

NSW Liberal Party vice-president Mary-Lou Jarvis attends a fundraiser for Warringah candidate Katherine Deves.

NSW Liberal Party vice-president Mary-Lou Jarvis attends a fundraiser for Warringah candidate Katherine Deves.Credit:James Alcock

Deves was also a vocal critic of a Victorian government bill to ban conversion therapy practices. The bill was not limited to archaic and discredited treatments such as electric shock therapy; it made it broadly unlawful to try to change or suppress someone’s sexuality or gender identity, and was condemned by religious groups on the basis it could even criminalise prayer and counselling.

The NSW Liberal Women’s Council worked on a policy response to the issues involved in the Victorian bill, a process that brought council president Mary-Lou Jarvis into contact with Deves. Jarvis, who is also a vice-president of the NSW Liberal Party, says Deves helped shape the policy. They eventually met in-person in December 2021.

Deves nominated for Warringah preselection on January 14, a Friday. It took party officials just one working day to reject her on the basis she had not been a Liberal Party member for the preceding six months.

At that time it was presumed that given the absence of a celebrity candidate such as Mike Baird or Gladys Berejiklian, barrister Jane Buncle would easily clinch the nomination. But when she withdrew in late January amid a widespread failure to move ahead with preselections in NSW, the hunt was on for alternatives.

It was Jarvis who promoted Deves as a credible option. A well-presented lawyer, albeit politically inexperienced, Deves seemed capable of taking on Steggall and preferable to conservative defence analyst Lincoln Parker, also a relative unknown.

Katherine Deves was escorted inside the Forestville RSL by her campaign adviser James Flynn, a long-time Liberal operative.

Katherine Deves was escorted inside the Forestville RSL by her campaign adviser James Flynn, a long-time Liberal operative.Credit:James Alcock

“[Deves] came highly recommended by some of the women in the [electorate] conference,” Jarvis told the Herald and The Age on Friday. “She is well-spoken, she’s attractive, she’s got the local knowledge, she’s local. She’s not unlike the constituents she’s seeking to represent: a mother with children, a professional, concerned about the same sort of issues [as] the people of Warringah.”

Those issues went beyond climate change, Jarvis said, calling Steggall a “single issue candidate”.

Jarvis believes most voters agree with Deves on the substance of the issue: female athletes should compete against biological females only. Jarvis says she was “very disappointed” by the reaction to Deves’ controversial comments from the media and some within her party.

“What’s happened to the idea that people can have differing positions or differing views and not respect those views without becoming personally aggressive?” Jarvis asks.

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But wasn’t Deves herself rather aggressive in her comments? “You’ve got to put them in context,” says Jarvis. “I’m sure I’ve said things and you’ve said things that taken out of context are pretty ordinary. She’s not a career politician. She’s refreshingly part of her community, and she’s not as sophisticated in how you approach the media.”

Deves is yet to take up many opportunities to approach the media since becoming a candidate, including multiple interview requests for this story.

On Friday night journalists were banned from her “politics in the pub” event with Liberal MP Jason Falinski; after three rehearsed sentences and a few photographs outside the Forestville RSL, she was escorted inside at speed.

In her videos, Deves gives the impression of someone who is not reluctant to speak their mind and argue their case. It remains to be seen whether she will be allowed to do so in the campaign.

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