NSW Coalition scrapes back in as minor parties surge – but delivering on promises will not be easy
The following opinion piece by Dr Andy Marks, Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Strategy and Projects) was first published with full links on The Conversation (opens in a new window).
“It’s not a game of SimCity,” NSW treasurer, Dominic Perrottet assured viewers on the ABC’s NSW election night coverage. “Sydney’s under construction”, he added, acknowledging the Coalition government’s unfinished infrastructure projects are causing grief, but noting, “I don’t sense any baseball bats”. He was right.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s Liberal-National government was returned to office on Saturday night, albeit on a slender margin. With the victory came some wreckage, and largely unexpected beneficiaries. This poll was predicted to be decided in the bush, and that’s where the movement occurred.
The Nationals lost the long held seats of Murray and Barwon on swings of around 27% and 21% respectively. And it was the Shooters, Farmers and Fishers that swept the field, capitalising on internal Nationals strife and pledging to act on the fish kill, water security and the drought.
The Shooters also consolidated the slender claim they had on Orange after the 2017 byelection, securing a 37% swing to make the central west firmly their own. A possible tempering of the Shooters vote in light of events in Christchurch didn’t eventuate, with victorious Orange candidate, Phil Donato, telling Channel Seven, “there wasn’t a real lot of talk about it”, adding, “it’s unfortunate it was politicised by the government.”
NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro remarked that his was “not a party of ideology” but a “party of geography”. He wasn’t wrong. While they incurred considerable drops in support in parts of the central, southern and outer west of the state, the Nationals actually attracted a swing of, on average, 5.6% across the seats of Clarence, Cootamundra, Monaro, Northern Tablelands and Oxley. Nevertheless, their Coalition partners were clearly concerned at the federal implications. Progressive Liberal Trent Zimmerman reserved particular scorn for Barnaby Joyce, arguing the NSW result confirmed, “he should spend more time in Tamworth and less time on TV”.
Newly-minted independent, Joe McGirr, has made Wagga Wagga his own, retaining the seat he won from the Liberals at last year’s byelection and building his buffer to over 15%. Long-standing Lake Macquarie independent, Greg Piper has put the one-time Labor stronghold squarely out of reach, picking up a 12% swing in the process. Depending on the flow of votes in the lower house, there is talk Piper will be approached for the speakership.
Affirming this election’s broad trend away from the major parties, Alex Greenwich retained Sydney with a roughly 3% swing in his favour. While still in doubt, independent Mathew Dickerson is making a very close run affair of Dubbo, nudging the high profile Nationals’ candidate, Dugald Saunders, a former ABC radio host.
Unlike the independents and the Shooters, One Nation was never going to secure lower house representation. But it did make notable inroads in urban areas. At last count, the NSW arm of Pauline Hanson’s party was odds on to usurp the Greens as the third force in Sydney metropolitan seats like Camden, Holsworthy, Penrith and Wollondilly.
Despite their recent internal turmoil, the Greens made a strong showing in lower house voting. Jamie Parker (Balmain) and Jenny Leong (Newtown) substantially grew their base, securing swings of 6.4 and 5.1% respectively. While in the north, Tamara Smith expanded her two-party preferred vote to over 57%.
The struggle to take neighbouring Lismore is going down to the wire, with former federal Labor MP, Janelle Saffin a chance to pull ahead of the Greens and Nationals in a complex three-way preference contest.
The outcome for the Greens and the Coalition in the upper house won’t be determined for some time. The trend towards minor parties and independents in the lower house, however, suggests that they will feature substantially in the 21 Legislative Council spots in play.
One Nation’s Mark Latham looks to have secured the required 4.55% vote share, with his party a chance for a second. At last count, the Coalition had just over seven spots, Labor six the Greens two and the Shooters one. The eventual upper house composition will almost certainly see the Coalition required to deal with a significantly expanded and unwieldy crossbench; a change from their current, more predictable arrangements, usually with the Christian Democrats.
This election will be remembered as a contest of clear delineations for the Coalition. While their partners, the Nationals, took substantial hits in the bush, the Liberals managed to hold the line in the city, losing Coogee, but retaining marginal East Hills, against the odds.
Labor leader Michael Daley’s “schools and hospitals before stadiums” message may have found traction in pre-election polling and with parts of the electorate, but it wasn’t sufficient for a relatively untested leader to take down a government pledging to “get it done” on infrastructure programs worth over A$80 billion.
Getting it done is the task now for the Berejiklian government, who will be looking to deliver on the large scale but delay-plagued infrastructure projects it has undertaken. Pressing ahead with that agenda won’t be easy for a government skirting a possible minority in the lower house and an unknown quantity in the upper house.
As for Labor, Daley is seeking to stick it out. Barring the stumbles of the last week of his campaign, he has performed remarkably well for a leader in the job only four months, fronting a party that only eight years ago suffered one of the worst electoral defeats in Australian political history. That might not matter to those seeking a new leadership direction after Saturday’s result.
25 March 2019
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