26 August 2017
The Labor Party played a bit of parliamentary switcheroo in New South Wales as a result of last year’s Federal election. This saw Linda Burney switch from State Parliament to Federal Parliament, Sophie Cotsis switch between chambers in State Parliament, and John Graham enter State Parliament. It also showed how new faces come to Parliament.
During last year, Burney resigned from her seat of Canterbury in the Lower House of State Parliament, in order to run for Federal Parliament, to which she was subsequently elected. This triggered a by-election in Canterbury, in the inner west of Sydney. Labor chose Cotsis, then a member of the Upper House of State Parliament, as its candidate for the Canterbury by-election. She had to resign from the Upper House to contest that by-election, and she won it.
When members of the Lower House die or resign before completing their terms, there are usually by-elections held to fill their seats. Lower House seats only cover specific areas of the state, which can be big or small, depending on the population. Seats in big cities can be quite small in area, whereas seats in rural areas can be huge because they cover small towns with relatively few people living in them.
The Upper House, by contrast, acts like one large electorate representing the entire state as a whole. You can be elected to this chamber regardless of whether you live in Ballina or Bathurst or Bondi. When Upper House members die or resign before completing their terms, their parties simply choose new people to replace them for the rest of their terms.
Therefore, when Cotsis resigned from the Upper House, Labor had to choose one of its rank and file members to fill her seat. The person chosen was Graham. He’ll be in the Upper House until 2023, unless he dies or departs for some other reason – he actually won’t face NSW voters when they next go to the polls, in 2019.
It’s important to note that the NSW Upper House has forty-two seats, with half of them going up for grabs at each election – twenty-one in number – on a rotating basis. The last NSW election was in 2015, and the one prior was in 2011. The next two NSW elections will be in 2019 and 2023. As such, those people elected to the Upper House at the last election, in 2015, won’t face the voters until 2023. This applies also to Graham, because his predecessor Cotsis was among those elected in 2015.
The same goes for another replacement in the Upper House, namely Justin Field of the Greens. He entered the Upper House when the Greens chose him to fill a vacant seat following the death of John Kaye, who was elected in 2015.
The Upper House members facing the voters in 2019 will be those elected in 2011, or their replacements. And because I refer to the 2011 election, things get interesting.
The 2011 election saw the Liberal-National Coalition smash Labor. In the Lower House, made up of ninety-three seats, Labor won only twenty of them, while the Coalition won sixty-nine. A similar drubbing occurred in the Upper House, where Labor won a mere five seats out of twenty-one and the Coalition won eleven – in other words, the Coalition actually won a majority of available Upper House seats. You rarely see that at elections!
This drubbing will, to some extent, trouble the Coalition. While the Coalition will lose seats in either parliamentary chamber at the next election, its likely losses in the Upper House will be bigger than usual, simply because of its big win in 2011.
It’s true that every election triggers an exodus of sorts. But the likely NSW Coalition exodus at the next election, in 2019, won’t exactly be small – at least as far as the Upper House in concerned. I suspect that a bigger exodus looms within the Coalition’s Upper House ranks in 2019.
Normally, the Coalition and Labor can be expected to win sixteen or seventeen Upper House seats at election time, out of a possible twenty-one. The overall election winner would probably take about nine seats, with the biggest loser probably taking seven or eight seats. Of course, these numbers might be larger unless voters are so unhappy with the Coalition and Labor that they term to minor players.
The Coalition’s eleven Upper House seats from 2011 will fall in number in 2019, without question. But by how much will depend on how popular the Coalition is at election time.
The Coalition’s popularity has fallen over the years, and it’ll lose plenty of seats, although the lack of enthusiasm among voters for Labor might make a difference to the likely losses. I personally think that the Coalition will lose at least three or four Upper House seats in 2019. Many Coalition people in the Upper House might choose to head for the exit doors, rather than endure the indignity of losing their seats, which they arguably won off the back of a previous election drubbing unlikely to recur at any stage in future.