So, wonks, we can delete our Virtual Tally Room apps (bravo to the NSW Electoral Commission on that one); scrub the hashtag from memory; congratulate, commiserate, complain. With the final spots in the LegCo called this morning – it’s all over for another four years.
As a former Labor government staffer, I take my hat off to former Premier Kristina Keneally for getting out of bed every day. The same goes for the campaign team. Election campaigns are exhausting & difficult when you know you’re going to win (2003) and when you believe you will win (2007). When you are on a hiding to nothing, it must have been difficult to muster the will to live. I am also proud that despite a near universal hatred of the party, the ALP fielded candidates in every one of the 93 Legislative Assembly seats, people who stood up knowing the electorate wants to take a cricket bat to the party & you’re the new ball.
It’s also no time to be churlish: Premier O’Farrell has won a thumping majority. There has been plenty of commentary flying around that he only had to stay on his feet to move into Level 40, Governor Macquarie Tower, but that’s really not true. O’Farrell & a few members of his opposition team (most notably “I’m only speaking to Gladys” Berejklian) did work hard at making themselves visible and exploiting Labor Government weaknesses in key portfolios; adopting the vomit principle to the perception of spin over substance & a ‘decisions for donations’ culture resonated with people when key projects were announced, delayed, reannounced, included in ‘record infrastructure spending’ Budget statements & promised anew. The new Premier may have run the smallest target campaign in history (I know where he stands on Part 3A of the Planning Act, but that’s about it) but he ran it faultlessly. The ALP was unable to make a dent in O’Farrell’s tight kitchen cabinet; & the religious right was largely obscured from view. The ALP ran full-tilt negative while the chief salesperson smiled. O’Farrell remained authentic while promising to restore NSW to first among equals, deliver better services and reverse the infrastructure deficit crippling growth.
The Greens won their first lower house seat and increased their numbers in the upper house. Congratulations. Unfortunately, they don’t hold the balance of power. They are just as set for a long, cold four years as the ALP and the lower house independents. I haven’t run through my seat-by-seat predictions, but my 14-20 ALP MPs has ended up being very close to the mark. Some seats I had given up (Keira, Cabramatta, Marrickville) were held; others (Monaro, Balmain, Granville) that I had hoped would be retained were lost, valiantly by quality candidates, all competent Ministers. Walking into the Bear Pit facing 70-odd Government MPs will require every ounce of steel each ALP MP can muster. They dished it out for 16 years and there is no way Government MPs will let them forget it. The lustre of the independents has worn off. The Nationals hate Richard Torbay with a passion; the Liberals will be eyeing off Sydney with Clover Moore surely in her last term and if they play their cards right in the Hunter, they will be in with a shot at wresting Lake Macquarie from Greg Piper’s hands in four years. They will also have their eye on Balmain. It will be interesting to see whether the tradition of granting independents one question a week will continue, & whether that courtesy will be extended to The Greens’ Jamie Parker.
As for the LegCo, where do you want to start? As I feared, the ALP’s four lost seats split conservative in the whole: one for The Shooters, one for the CDP and one for The Nationals. The final count – 19 for the LNP; 14 for the ALP; 5 for The Greens, 2 each for the Shooters & the CDP. The Government does not hold a majority; they will, as every Minister I worked for, have to negotiate with the cross-benchers and brief the Opposition. How the Government navigates the LegCo will be interesting. The Premier has stated he will not bow to minority interests, so a ‘ban the burqa’ Bill may not be on the cards … however, many see the sidelining of Environment shadow spokesperson, Catherine Cusack, from the Ministry as a sop to the Shooters, & if you look at several ’social justice’ issues: the Medically Supervised Injecting Room; same-sex adoption; equalisation of the age of consent; occupational health and safety; stem-cell research; transgender discrimination; affordable housing … where will the Government, with 70 members in the LA, a further 19 in the LC come to a landing? Will the Premier let the ‘minority interests’ in the Liberal and Nationals’ party rooms (let alone the minor parties) go unheard?
Make no mistake: those interests exist. The Rev. Fred Nile has introduced three bills on abortion information since 2006 (each of them allowed to lapse); four attempts to ban alcohol advertising; and three goes at repealing anti-discrimination amendments outlawing vilification of homosexuals. That is just a sample you can find filed under the letter ’A’. The Shooters? For starters, they want to open National Parks for hunting. Also, school children to be taught the way of the gun. The Nationals will want serious reform of (perhaps repeal) of almost all land use laws. Our marine parks will probably go. Then there is the right-wing of the Liberal Party. It may be a broad church, the Liberal Party, but there is plenty of room for Christian conservatives.
Courting the Labor caucus was akin to herding cats. Premier O’Farrell may need a lesson in taming tigers to keep his backbenchers happy. A great many of them are fresh faces. They have won electorates which would previously been thought unthinkable. They will all want to be seen to be delivering for the people who voted for them. The Nationals (or Agrarian Socialists) will be aggrieved at losing a Cabinet spot & desperate to show voters they are not along for the ride but carry real punch. That said, the Liberals did the heavy lifting, winning six out of eight seats in the Hunter, all of the Central Coast and a swathe of Western Sydney seats. The Liberal party won the election; the Nationals reclaimed seats they used to hold.
The good news: clearly, for a social progressive, the failure of Pauline Hanson to gain a seat on the red leather benches for eight years, and the repudiation of Family First (The Rev Dr Gordon Moyes unsuccessful in his attempt to fight Nile from the outside) are good outcomes. Mind you, Pauline has a point about being disadvantaged by optional-preferential above the line voting. She almost got across the line today because the political landscape is so poisonous her past was rarely discussed – she was treated more like the ‘Dancing With The Stars Pauline’ than the lazy bigot she is. The election of Jeremy Buckingham will hopefully rally those who believe in climate change and live west of the Great Dividing Range and demonstrate a progressive agenda is not the preserve of the inner-city latté sippers or Byron Bay.
Believe it or not, there is some good news for the ALP – if they play it right. The Premier, in my view, has made a few mistakes straight out of the gate. He has set out his stall with the clubs and pubs over the poker machine reforms. He has given portfolios to some old warhorses in a fairly obvious gold watch pension plan, but also because there are very few people in the Government with prior experience as Government MPs, let alone as Ministers. In the words of his own media release, he elevated Victor Dominello and Robyn Parker to the ministry because of electoral results, not their competence or incompetence. Being a good Minister is bloody difficult. I take my hat off to anyone who stands at the despatch box during Question Time. There are a myriad of issues, systems and people who can stuff your day before it’s begun. While the Government will be able to blame Labor for the entirety of its first term and get away with most of it, O’Farrell has cultivated a perception that he can ‘fix’ NSW. Good luck with meeting the inevitable expectation gap.
Most seriously and unnecessary, Premier O’Farrell has wrought political humiliation on his Treasurer, Mike Baird. Not only is Baird ranked below George Souris on the Ministerial list by seniority, his legislative load has been significantly stripped and handed over to the Minister for Finance and Services, Greg Pearce. Appointing Michael Daley to Shadow both Pearce and Baird is a tactical win for John Robertson. Firstly, Daley is an excellent Parliamentary performer. He can look at the financial state of affairs in its entirety. Mike Baird is going to sit in the ninth spot on the front bench. In Bear Pit terms, that is Siberia. Prepping for Question Time is going to be difficult given that his office will rely on briefs from the office of a man who has essentially usurped his power. Left to his own devices by his leader, Baird handled the election costings announcement abysmally. How is he going to put together, let alone take questions on a mini-Budget in May without control of many of the Acts and agencies which bring in revenue? It is ridiculous. Ministerial offices and departments can descend quite easily to a kind of internecine warfare that could play to the ALP’s advantage. If I were running parliamentary tactics, I would ask Mike Baird five questions every sitting day until he cracks. He can be targeted as the weak link in the Government, simply because he has been put in that position by his own Premier. Opposition in large is about taking scalps. Take Baird’s first, and fast. Then wait and see how things shake out. Who starts leaking. Who is befriended at the Members Bar. Who doesn’t feel the love. Who has been overlooked, or dumped. The sitting members who haven’t won a ministerial suite never will; thwarted ambition is difficult to swallow. With a Government that barely fits into the Parkes room, ructions are inevitable unless O’Farrell and his staff keep a very tight leash and give a lot of love.
The other positive? The decimation of the ALP might just get it through their thick skulls: that utter bastardry does not make for a healthy, respected party, let alone good government.
I wish them all well. At the moment, I reserve my contempt for the 131,218 people who took the time to go to a polling place & put a blank LegCo ballot into the box. Congratulations. You won the 20th seat by a mile.