28 March 2015
Rarely would there have been an election like what confronts voters in New South Wales today. Not many governments have gone into elections with popular leaders, massive parliamentary majorities, uninspiring rivals, and controversial policies. Yet today this is what voters face in the most populous Australian state.
At the last state election in NSW, in 2011, the Liberal-National Coalition scored a monstrous victory. The Labor Party had governed since 1995, and for years had stunk of such corruption and incompetence that voters were desperate to toss Labor out, although the state economy wasn’t exactly in bad shape. Ultimately, voters gave the Coalition a whopping 69-20 victory over Labor in the 93-seat Legislative Assembly, with a Green and a trio of Independents winning the few seats that neither the Coalition nor Labor won. The Coalition also won more seats up for grabs in the Legislative Council than anyone else, though not enough for a majority.
Liberal leader Barry O’Farrell became Premier when the Coalition won office in 2011. He seemed lacklustre, but the Labor Party was so bad that O’Farrell looked better than he probably was. But in 2014, O’Farrell resigned after misleading the Independent Commission Against Corruption, ironically at an inquiry which was set to investigate the controversial dealings of some Labor figures but ended up catching out some Liberals in the process. The shock departure of O’Farrell saw Mike Baird become Liberal leader and Premier, and this ultimately energised the Coalition.
Baird has been almost too good to be true. He comes across as energetic and likeable. Compared to many other political leaders, he usually makes an effort to answer questions, without appearing to repeatedly recite lines from some script, and sounds less robotic. Few political leaders these days come across like Baird in this respect.
As for the Labor Party, it was always going to look lacklustre. After its 2011 drubbing it looked uninspiring, with little in terms of positive ideas that voters could get behind. Although Luke Foley has looked good since becoming Labor leader, he’s still heading a dull bunch with little to say beyond opposing Coalition plans and policies. Nobody really gives Foley a chance to win the election today, though he’ll win back much of Labor’s lost ground from 2011.
Yet despite being a popular leader with a massive majority and a less-than-inspiring rival, as well as a state economy in good shape, problems confront Baird and the Coalition. There have been dramas over some public sector job cuts, corruption allegations that drove some MPs out of the Liberal Party, and plans for several motorway tunnels to cut congestion on Sydney’s roads – the tunnels in particular have aroused much local resistance because of concerns about pollution from them and losses of homes to tunnel interchanges, although critics have ignored how inadequate public transport in outer suburbs bred much of the congestion that led to the tunnel ideas. The unpopularity of Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the Coalition at a national level also appears to be hurting Baird’s mob.
However, bothering voters is Baird’s plan for electricity privatisation. His idea is to lease electricity assets, or “poles and wires” in other words, and use funds from it to upgrade infrastructure like roads and schools and hospitals. Voters seem opposed to electricity privatisation, because they fear a costlier and less reliable electricity supply if control goes to private operators, especially big corporations, who’d perceivably cut jobs and put off maintenance in pursuit of profits. But they’re not really warming to Labor’s anti-privatisation messages. So there’s a chance that they’ll vote for someone advocating a plan that they oppose, which would turn conventional election rules upside-down.
Putting aside popularity and majorities and policies, what’s likely to happen in NSW today? Opinion polls seem to tip a swing of 9-10 per cent against the Coalition, which in itself looks huge. But it’d take a larger swing to cost the Coalition its parliamentary majority, and Labor needs a swing twice as big to win outright.
The Coalition will lose many seats today, but should still hold office. In alphabetical order, I tip the Coalition to lose these seats to Labor – Blue Mountains, Campbelltown, Coogee, East Hills, Granville, Holsworthy, Kiama, Londonderry, Macquarie Fields, Maitland, Monaro, Oatley, Prospect, Rockdale, Strathfield, Swansea, and Wyong. I also tip the Coalition to lose Tamworth to an Independent.
But I tip the Coalition to win Miranda from Labor. The Coalition won this seat from Labor with a massive swing in 2011, after popular Labor MP Barry Collier retired. But when the new sitting member resigned in 2013, Collier came out of retirement to contest a subsequent by-election, and won. Now he’s retiring again, and Miranda effectively reverts back to the Coalition margin from the 2011 election, which is above the swing expected today, so the Coalition will win it. Northern Tablelands and Newcastle and Charlestown also changed hands at by-elections during the past two years, and I tip their sitting members to win. I also tip the Greens to hold Balmain and win Newtown.
The likely NSW election outcome might be 51-37-2-3 in the Legislative Assembly, in a Coalition-Labor-Greens-Independent sequence, while the Coalition will gain some seats but still lack a majority in the Legislative Council. Given concerns about electricity privatisation, some rules could be broken in this election today.