12 February 2017
Voters in part of Sydney’s inner north face their fourth visit to election booths in barely two years. Having already been twice for general elections and once because of a politician who decided to leave early, they’ll soon be going again because of a politician’s early exit.
The general elections were expected. Indeed the timing of one of them was decided more than two decades ago, whereas the other one could’ve happened at any certain time. But the politicians deciding on early exits weren’t expected. As such, you’d be forgiven for thinking that voters in this neck of the woods resent having to keep going to the polls in such a short space of time.
In terms of these visits to the polls, the first of them was for a state election in New South Wales in March 2015. The date of this election was known long ago. The NSW Parliament, like its counterparts in most other states, has fixed terms and election dates. Since 1995, state elections in NSW have been held every fourth year, during the month of March. They were subsequently held in 1999, 2003, 2007, and 2011 – hence no surprise in the coming of that election in 2015.
The second of the visits to the polls in this part of Sydney was later that year, for a by-election in the Federal seat of North Sydney. This followed the resignation of Joe Hockey, who decided to call it quits after being dumped as Treasurer in the wake of a leadership challenge which saw Tony Abbott dumped as Prime Minister in favour of Malcolm Turnbull. A Federal election was due the following year, but Hockey got out early, forcing the by-election.
That Federal election was the third of the visits to the polls for voters in this part of Sydney. It was due in the second half of 2016, with the previous election having occurred three years earlier, in September 2013. It ended up coming in July, which was perhaps earlier than expected, but voters would’ve known that it was coming.
Three visits to election booths in sixteen months might annoy voters, especially if any or all of them should result from politicians deciding to quit early instead of waiting until the next general election.
But before long, voters in this part of Sydney will face another by-election, following the departure from the NSW Parliament of former minister Jillian Skinner, who holds the seat of North Shore. This will be their fourth visit to the polls in just two years.
NSW voters don’t face a general election for another two years – it’s already fixed for March 2019. But with Skinner deciding against waiting until then, another visit to polls looms for some voters in northern Sydney. They might well be fatigued after visiting the polls yet again.
Having said that, I think that Skinner mightn’t have gone at this time if not for something else happening first. That other thing was the resignation last month of Mike Baird as leader of the Liberal Party, and therefore as State Premier, as well as from Parliament altogether. Baird’s exit from the top job was a surprise, and his decision to exit Parliament immediately was even more so, notwithstanding health issues affecting his family at the moment when his exit was announced. There was talk for some time about Baird possibly reshuffling his ministry and either demoting or dumping Skinner, who’d been Health Minister since the 2011 election and previously handled the health portfolio when she was an Opposition MP. She didn’t want to go, and had apparently threatened to quit politics if she lost her job. Baird’s decision to exit might well have made it easier for Skinner to be dumped, if that’d been the wish of new Premier Gladys Berejiklian.
The Liberals mightn’t have wanted a by-election at this time, particularly amid public anger over issues like merging of local councils. Perhaps this scared them out of moving Skinner on from the health portfolio. But with the exit of Baird triggering a by-election, in the seat of Manly, the loss of Skinner and another by-election didn’t matter as much.
Sometimes, several by-elections can take place at once. Indeed I read that the Labor Party lost several MPs around the middle of 1983 – the first of them had passed away, meaning that a by-election was coming for the seat of that deceased MP, so other Labor MPs chose to resign soon after that passing, thus bringing about several by-elections at once, all of which Labor won. This makes the coming by-elections in Manly and North Shore less problematic to some degree.
Labor has no chance of winning either of those by-election, and I even doubt that it’ll contest them. And while both Manly and North Shore have fallen to Independents for long periods in the past, I don’t know of any well-known Independents running in them.
The Liberals will probably win both by-elections, however early it might be to make such a call. There might be fatigue or resentment over arguably needless visits to the polls, especially in Sydney’s inner north, but nothing surprising looks like coming out of them.