NSW two weeks out

Australia’s biggest election for the year happens in a fortnight’s time, on 25 March, when the state of New South Wales goes to the polls. Its Liberal-National Party coalition government, in office since 2011, is seeking a fourth (fixed, four-year) term, an uphill task but by no means an impossible one.

Liberal leader Dominic Perrottet is the fourth premier to hold office in that time. His three predecessors – Barry O’Farrell (2011-14), Mike Baird (2014-17) and Gladys Berejiklian (2017-21) – won one election each, and he is hoping to join them. Four-term spans of office are far from unprecedented in New South Wales; Labor did it from 1976 to 1988 and again from 1995 to 2011, and the Coalition did it previously from 1965 to 1976.

Nonetheless, there’s a consensus that the odds are against the Coalition this time. Sportsbet this morning has Labor at odds of four to one on to form government, with the Coalition at 13-4 against. As of last week, Kevin Bonham’s polling aggregate showed Labor leading 53-47 in two-party-preferred terms, a swing of 5.0% since 2019. That would not necessarily give it a majority in its own right, but if it holds up it would most probably mean a Labor government of some sort.

Labor has had even less leadership stability than the Liberals; current leader Chris Minns is its fifth since the 2011 defeat. He took the job in June 2021 (four months before Perrottet became premier), following the resignation of Jodi McKay. Leading the NSW Labor Party is never easy, but as its members scent the chance of victory their internal conflicts seem to have been stifled to some extent, presenting a reasonably united front.

Minns has been helped by the victory of Anthony Albanese – also from NSW, albeit on the opposite side of the party – at last year’s federal election. That was a boost to Labor’s morale, and a corresponding cue for the Liberals to engage in some unproductive recriminations. Perrottet, both before and after that election, has worked hard to distance himself from former prime minister Scott Morrison, but with Albanese still enjoying an electoral honeymoon it’s inevitable that some of Morrison’s unpopularity will flow through.

Perrottet also has the disadvantage that, unlike his three predecessors, he comes from his party’s hard right and so is less in tune with the mainstream of the electorate. He has done reasonably well at calming fears on that score, and at times seems more progressive than his opponents – not such a difficult thing with NSW Labor. But the Liberals’ NSW division suffers the same problem as in the rest of the country, of a narrow and unrepresentative membership that pulls it in unwelcome and downright strange policy directions.

Antony Green provides a comprehensive guide to the election, as does William Bowe at the Poll Bludger. I’ll have more to say about the detail closer to the time, but basically Labor last time won 36 of the 93 lower house seats, and picked up a 37th (Bega) in a by-election last year. It therefore needs another ten for a majority, although one Liberal-held seat (Heathcote) would already now be won by Labor on the 2019 figures due to a redistribution.

Picking up a further nine seats requires a uniform swing of 6.5%, but Labor’s position is better than that suggests. The Greens hold three seats; their relationship with Labor is poor, but given the choice it is most unlikely that they would keep the Coalition in power. Another three seats were won last time by the Shooters; their party has basically disintegrated, but the three are all seeking re-election as independents, alongside another three sitting independents. If they are returned, or if other independents join them, they could provide additional options for Labor to reach a majority.

There’s also the upper house, or Legislative Council, elected by proportional representation across the whole state. The members elected last time, who will sit until 2027, comprise five Liberals, three Nationals, seven Labor, two Greens, two One Nation, one Shooter and one Animal Justice. Based on that result, the combination of Labor, Greens and Animal Justice needs to win an extra two seats for a majority, which seems a plausible target.


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