Narrow winner, big loser

As Australian readers will already be aware, Saturday’s state election saw the Labor Party win government in New South Wales, leaving Tasmania as now the only state with a non-Labor party in power. The size of its victory, however, is still a matter of doubt.

To win a majority in its own right (47 of the 93 seats) Labor needed to pick up ten seats, as I explained in Friday’s preview. On Saturday night, even though there were a lot of votes left to count, it was clear that it had won eight: Camden, East Hills, Heathcote, Monaro, South Coast, Penrith, Parramatta and Riverstone. Since it was ahead in another six, there seemed little doubt that it would get over the line.

And that was the tone of much of yesterday’s media coverage. Those who had previously talked up the chances of a hung parliament were accused of being out of touch; even the word “landslide” made some appearances. But when further results started coming in yesterday afternoon, especially with pre-poll votes being counted, things looked a bit different.

Kevin Bonham, who provides the most detailed analysis of progress counting, now lists only Ryde and Terrigal as likely additional gains for Labor – the bare minimum required. Of the other doubtfuls, Goulburn, Kiama, Miranda and Oatley now all seem to be trending back towards the Liberals (or an ex-Liberal independent in the case of Kiama), with Holsworthy still uncertain.

So if the Liberals can manage to pick off either Ryde or Terrigal while consolidating their position in the others, Labor will fall short at 46 seats. That won’t stop it forming government; with three Greens and several sympathetic independents there will be plenty of options for getting to a majority. But it would dramatically change the narrative.

There’s a strong similarity here with last year’s federal election: in each case, one side lost badly while the other won only narrowly. If you think in terms of a straight two-party system, that’s very mysterious. What’s happened, of course, is that independents and minor parties are playing an increasingly important role. There were already nine MPs on the crossbench last time; now there will be at least 11, with independent gains in Wakehurst and Wollondilly, plus outstanding chances in Kiama and Pittwater.

The shift in late counting is a welcome piece of good news for the Liberal Party, battered by yesterday’s party room impasse in Victoria and desperate to hold on in next Saturday’s Aston by-election. But it shouldn’t obscure the fact that the Coalition’s losses are still in double figures, and the swing against it is of the order of six per cent. On the last two occasions it lost government in New South Wales, in 1976 and 1995, it could fairly say that it had almost hung on: not so this time.

Finally a word about the upper house, the Legislative Council, where 21 members are elected by proportional representation across the whole state. Counting there is not as far advanced, but we can be definite about 18 seats: eight Labor, six Coalition (four Liberals and two Nationals), two Greens, a One Nation and a Legalise Cannabis. Since the 21 continuing members (elected in 2019) break 10-11 left-right, the “left” broadly speaking needs to win just one of the final three for a majority.

Its best chance is with Animal Justice, currently sitting on 0.47 of a quota. Ahead of them are the badly misnamed Liberal Democrats (0.73), the Shooters (0.67) and the seventh Coalition candidate (0.55); then there’s quite a gap to two independent tickets (0.28 and 0.23) and the second One Nation (0.24).

If the movement that’s already been observed in the pre-polls flows through to the upper house – and there’s no obvious reason why it shouldn’t – then most likely Animal Justice will be the ones to miss out. That would leave Labor and its natural allies with 21 seats out of 42; enough to block opposition initiatives, but needing additional support (probably from the Shooters) to get legislation through.

There’s a long way left to go in this count, so we’ll come back to it at a later date. It’s worth noting, though, that the Liberal Democrats did especially badly on preferences last time. If they repeat that performance, things could be very tight.

UPDATE, Wednesday 11.45am: After another day’s worth of counting, most of the lower house seats now look reasonably clear, although it’s possible that absentee votes could still change the picture. The Liberals have indeed reeled in Terrigal, and also look poised to win Holsworthy as well as the others where they took the lead on Monday (including Pittwater against the independent).

If that all holds up, the new Legislative Assembly will be Labor 46 (up nine), Liberals 24 (down ten), Nationals 11 (down two), Greens three (unchanged) and independents nine (up three*). Three of the independents have jointly promised to guarantee confidence and supply to a Labor government if needed.

FURTHER UPDATE, Thursday 6 April 11.30am: Continued counting has confirmed all the above results except for Ryde, where the Liberals are now ahead and expected to win. Kevin Bonham estimates their lead at 79 votes, which should increase slightly with late postals. That leaves Labor on 45 seats, two short of a majority.

Greg Piper, the left-leaning independent MP for Lake Macquarie, has accepted an offer from the new government to become Speaker, which will somewhat improve Labor’s position on the floor.


* Strictly speaking, independents are up six and Shooters down three; the three Shooters MPs all left the party during the last term and all held their seats as independents.


5 thoughts on “Narrow winner, big loser

    1. Latham’s back, but his strategy to again get the #2 on the ticket up seems to have failed – on the latest figures he’s only got 1.26 quotas.
      And, as I expect you’ve seen in today’s media, he’s not taking it well.


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