QUENTIN DEMPSTER. Berejiklian government in danger in NSW election

With just two weeks to go to the state election, a political dispute over Sydney’s Allianz stadium has  galvanised New South Wales voters.

A live-to-air headline-grabbing threat by the new Labor leader Michael Daley to sack the Sydney Cricket Ground Trust, including its shock jock director Alan Jones, reignited public anger over a $2.2billion rebuilding program including the eastern suburbs stadium.

Mr Daley is facing defamation action from SCG directors enraged by his imputation that they embellished the case for the demolition of the stadium.

Mr Daley, previously unknown and considered a pedestrian politician, is unrepentant and now buoyed by his prime time higher profile for having the temerity to take on Alan Jones on his own program on 2GB.

The current stadium’s architect Phillip Cox has protested at the demolition of his work, now cleared from a court injunction brought by protesters. Mr Cox said the existing stadium was compliant with safety requirements and any modernising or updating easily could be carried out cost effectively.  The SCG has claimed a new stadium is needed for safety reasons and invoked the Hillsborough stadium disaster in the UK as compelling justification for its replacement here.

“If the stadium is unsafe now why did they allow sell out crowds at the recent Michael Buble and Taylor Swift concerts?’, one SCG critic told The New Daily.

One letter writer to a newspaper best summed up the anger at what many consider to be a waste of public funds when hospitals and schools and the struggling Darling River are considered more needy. “I’ll do without a brand new Allianz stadium. I’ll put up with the old one and the Premier can use the $2.2billion to help the (Darling) river”.

The Gladys Berejiklian Liberal-National government in New South Wales is now in grave danger at the state election on March 23.

Significantly the Premier has just changed her rhetoric over the stadium from defensive avoidance to a declaration that high standard capital works were needed across the board – schools, hospitals  … and sporting facilities.

Even with full employment, a rude $3.9billion state budget surplus and with the pressure off housing affordability because of the Sydney property price slump, the Allianz stadium dispute plus  collateral federal LNP brand damage has put the NSW Coalition government’s third term in jeopardy.

The latest Newspoll shows there is a 4.3 percent swing currently running against the NSW Coalition. More statewide polling is imminent and is expected to cover the media frenzy over Allianz stadium. A 4.3 percent swing to Labor is not sufficient to defeat the government outright. But if such a swing is uniform across electorates on March 23, NSW electors will return a hung parliament. Then it is a question of which party has the most ‘bearpit’ (lower house) numbers and can wrangle a show of support on confidence motions from returning cross bench MPs to persuade His Excellency David Hurley, the Governor of NSW, to commission that party’s leader to form executive government.

Current state of the parties is: Liberals 36; Nationals 16; ALP 34; Greens 3; Shooters, Fishers and Farmers 1; independents 3. A party leader needs to show Her Excellency the signature support of 47 MPs to win a commission.

Michael Daley replaced Luke Foley as state Labor leader last November after Mr Foley resigned following a groping scandal. Mr Daley has to pick up 13 seats to win majority government.

On the electoral pendulum that task would require a swing of around 9 percent, not impossible if voter baseball bats are out. But where the Berejiklian government is most vulnerable is in National Party-held seats.
Mr Daley told The New Daily that he was hoping to get to government by majority outright or in minority with cross bench support through the collapse of the National Party vote in the bush.

Is this feasible or is he suffering from candidate’s syndrome?

In Monaro (margin 2.5%) southern NSW state Nationals leader John Barilaro is up against Labor’s Bryce Wilson. Significantly Mr Barilaro is reported to have dropped all National Party brand signage from his marketing and is emphasising his strength as the local member to hold on to his seat.

If the Nationals vote collapses across the state there is a greater prospect of rural independents and a resurgent Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party  being elected than a direct benefit to Labor.   In many National-held seats where Labor cannot win, Labor is expected to direct preferences to the Shooters’ candidates. This has already happened in the seat of Orange where the Shooters took the seat in a recent by-election.

NSW has optional preferential which, according to ABC psephologist, Antony Green, tends to complicate outcomes particularly with Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party, now a registered political party in NSW. One Nation is standing candidates to compete directly against the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party for any vulnerable National Party seat. One Nation’s leader in NSW is former federal Labor leader Mark Latham, now considered a certainty to be elected to the state’s upper house.

Other key marginals are East Hills (Lib 0.4%), Coogee (Lib 2.9%), Tweed (Nat 3.2%), Murray (Nat 3.3%), Penrith (Lib 6.2%), Goulburn (Lib 6.6%), Oately (Lib 6.6%), Holsworthy (Lib 6.7%), Heathcote (Lib 7.6%), Myall Lakes (Nat 8.7%), Seven Hills (Lib 8.7%), Clarence (Nat 9.7%), Barwon (Nat 12.9%), Coffs harbour (Nat 14.3%), Wollondilly (Lib 17.3%) Dubbo (Nat 20.4%).

In the marginal (0.2%) far north coast seat of Lismore, held by the Nationals since 1965, MP Thomas George is retiring. Labor has endorsed former federal (Page) MP Janelle Saffin. There is an intense battle for this seat from the Greens where the coal seam gas issue helped that party take the neighbouring state seat of Ballina in 2015.

In Upper Hunter (margin 2.2%) incumbent Nationals MP Michael Johnson faces stiff competition from Labor but particularly from the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party.

Premier Berejiklian, although a competent technocrat, appears to be struggling to articulate a strong re-election narrative and has been placed on the defensive over her  decision to demolish Allianz stadium; another year’s delay and ugly litigation in the completion of a disruptive tramway system through the Sydney CBD; continuing anger over the massive Westconnex toll road compulsory acquisitions; and perceived over-development by high density apartment blocks through once leafy areas of greater Sydney. Cracks through the load-bearing structural walls of a high rise apartment block co-developed by the government, have not helped the government’s standing.

This is an extended version of Quentin Dempster’s NSW election analysis posted on The New Daily.

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