Minority government for NSW


By Steve Painter

SYDNEY — It took a week after election day, but it now seems Nick Greiner's Liberal-National coalition will have the 49 seats needed to form a minority government with the support of National Party defector Tony Windsor. There will certainly be recounts and disputes in several closely fought seats. The opposition will probably consist of 46 Labor members and three independents.

Following the exclusion of some 250,000 ballots marked with a cross or tick rather than a number, the Labor Party has initiated legal action to have these ballots declared valid.

It appears the coalition will also control the upper house with the support of Fred Nile's Call to Australia (CTA), though Green candidate Ian Cohen may still tip Nile out of the final seat. With the Liberals sure of seven seats, Labor six and the Democrats one, both Nile and Cohen are depending on preferences to decide the 15th position. Cohen, with around 3% of the vote statewide, has .4 of a quota, while Nile has .6. The final result will depend on Labor, Liberal and Democrat preferences.

If Nile loses, his wife Elaine will resign her seat so he can take it. Under rules valid up to the May 25 poll, upper house candidates serve 12-year terms, with one third contesting elections every four years.

The Greens are pleased with their upper house result, achieved against a blackout on most candidates other than Carr and Greiner. The media picked up only one of Cohen's press releases on a range of issues. Cohen would now be almost certain of victory had the NSW Labor Council backed the Greens instead of throwing support behind the hopeless campaign of the far-right CTA-breakaway Marie Bignold Team, headed by Bignold's daughter Alicia.

In an attempt to prevent Greiner getting control of the upper house and a consequent free hand for attacks on jobs and union rights, the Labor Council provided substantial financial support for the Bignold campaign. The NSW Public Service Association sent all its members a letter advocating a vote for Bignold.

The Australian Democrats are said to be disappointed with their vote after contesting a record 85 seats for an average vote of around 2%. About 30 Democrats lost their deposits, and the party could be in financial difficulties.

In the upper house, the Democrats' controversial choice of bicentenary celebration organiser Jonathon King also appears to have backfired. While Democrat incumbent Elizabeth Kirkby was returned as expected, King was never in the race for the 15th position.

King's candidacy, backed by wealthy Democrat upper house incumbent Richard Jones, was a source of concern even within the party, as many voters would have sympathised with Aboriginal and other protests against the bicentenary celebrations, which were widely regarded as an extravagance even among those who didn't actively oppose them. The NSW branch stands on the right of the Democrats nationally.

Green lower house candidates polled well. Marrickville candidate Bruce n the safe Labor seat, says the media blackout was not so complete at local level and his campaign got fair treatment from local papers. Results were promising even in traditionally conservative Drummoyne, where Bruce Threlfo won about 4%, and in blue-ribbon Liberal Vaucluse, where Geoff Ash got 4.8%.

According to Wilderness Society director Karenne Jurd, the "Green-leaning" vote is up about 60% from 1988. The society recommended a vote for the Greens or Democrats in the upper house, and a vote according to conscience in the lower house.

Some Greens would now welcome an early election if Greiner is forced into an attempt to break the present near-deadlock, because new rules will reduce upper house quotas from around 6.5% to around 4.5% in future polls.

The ALP, reportedly around $1 million in debt and with no WA Inc-fed slush fund to draw on, ran a traditional pre-'80s style populist campaign, trying to win back lost support. It attempted to disown the recession by publicly taking its distance from the federal government.

While this decision might indicate a drawing back from the worst excesses of the Hawke, Wran and Unsworth years, it's more likely cosmetic and was probably taken with the knowledge of the right-dominated federal Labor government.

Certainly, the Premier's Department thought enough of Carr's Where the money's coming from document to fax it around the public service, presumably in the expectation that its proposals for cuts to government programs would cost Labor votes.

In this document, Carr proposed to find upwards of a quarter billion dollars for "better education, health, police, public transport and environmental services" each year until 1994, by methods including increasing productivity in the public service, and cutting between $78 and $82 million from government programs each year. This would probably mean shedding thousands of public service staff, and "redeploying" many more. The Carr plan also included enhanced "commercialisation of hospital facilities".

Nevertheless, for many people Labor obviously began to sound relatively good alongside the Neanderthal policies of the Liberals.

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