Loss of Bega deepens NSW minority government and unsettles Feds

The outcome of yesterday’s by-elections was not unexpected by the NSW Government and as a result Premier Dominic Perrottet will continue to govern in minority relying on independent support. The Government faced an uphill battle in Bega with Labor running the popular South Coast doctor Michael Holland and a lingering backlash to the response from the 2019-20 bushfires. It is, however, unmistakably a big blow in a heartland seat. Experience shows that popular country MPs of any political colour are hard to shift.

While there are no clear implications for the Federal poll in May, the results provide some ill-timed optics for the Morrison Government after a difficult week.

In Strathfield, Monaro and Willoughby, there were big swings against both the Coalition and Labor. All three seats were previously held by highly visible and popular local MPs in Jodi McKay (Strathfield – Labor), John Barilaro (Monaro – Nationals) and Gladys Berejiklian (Willoughby – Liberal) so swings were expected.

In addition to Dr Holland, other new MLAs are Strathfield’s Jason Yat-Sen Li, finally entering Parliament after a few tries, former political adviser Tim James in Willoughby and prominent local National Nichole Overall in Monaro.

Independents grow in power.

The loss of Bega reduces the Government to 45 seats in the 93-seat parliament (47 votes are required to pass legislation), extending its existing minority status.

This result increases the need for the Premier and his Cabinet to work in greater partnership with Independent MPs including Joe McGirr (Wagga Wagga), Alex Greenwich (Sydney) and Greg Piper (Lake Macquarie). The Premier is faced with the additional headache of having two Liberal MPs, John Sidoti (Drummoyne) and Gareth Ward (Kiama), sitting as Independents.

The challenge for the NSW Government is to work as quickly as possible to get the economy moving again while reliant on the support of crossbench independents to pass legislation.

Hard yards to the March 2023 poll.

With the Perrottet Government entering the final year of a third term Government, the by-elections show that both major parties will not have an easy ride home. Both parties will now be looking to get past the Federal election (likely May) so they can get some clear air to sell their competing visions to the people of NSW.

For State Labor, winning an extra seat from the Coalition’s heartland will give the party a sense of momentum as Opposition Leader Chris Minns kicks off a year of campaigning to the March 2023 poll. The ALP picked a great candidate in Bega – a lesson for both parties.

Federal implications should not be overstated.

By-elections can be an opportunity for an unhappy electorate to send a message to incumbent governments knowing that the result won’t change who is in charge. Bill Shorten was successful in by-elections but lost the federal election. No doubt, though, there will be some nervous members in the Coalition, and after the last week of instability, this may exacerbate existing tensions.

While the swing against the Government in Willoughby was 18%, it was towards an Independent as Labor didn’t run a candidate. This result will be a concern for the Federal Government with independent candidates running in inner city electorates on platforms like climate change.

In Bega there are reports that the biggest swings against the Coalition were in areas hardest hit by the bushfires. Federal Labor narrowly won the traditional bellwether of Eden-Monaro in 2020 at another by-election and there will be Coalition concern as to how this result impacts the wider electorate including neighbouring seats.

The upshot overall is – by-elections are by-elections and while this will unsettle the Coalition, Scott Morrison has time to reset.

For more information.

Our well-connected NSW team would be delighted to offer you a presentation on the 2022 election landscape.

NSW contacts:

Clint McGilvray – clint.mcgilvray@secnewgate.com.au

Jeremy Vine – jeremy.vine@secnewgate.com.au

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