NSW Labor wins ‘battle of civility’ in lacklustre campaign

March 30, 2023
Will the new Labor government follow through on promises and save Waterloo from the developer greed? Photo: Green Left

Labor has emerged the “winner” with 45 seats after the March 25 election in New South Wales, in a result with some parallels to last year’s federal poll.

With 84% of the vote counted this is not the “landslide” talked up by the media, but it will be enough to ensure Labor can form a minority government, with an expanded crossbench holding 12 seats.

Labor now holds power at both a federal and state levels in all but Tasmania.

The Liberal and National parties, in government for 12 years, won 35 seats. While the swing away from the Coalition was 7.2% overall, Labor only received a 3.6% swing on first preference votes, with the rest going to independents and the NSW Greens.

The Greens easily held the inner-city seat of Newtown, with sitting MP Jenny Leong receiving 54% of the first preference vote (FPV). The Greens’ Kobi Shetty won with 40% FPV in Balmain (formerly held by retiring Green MP Jamie Parker) and Tamara Smith kept Ballina with 34% of the FPV.


There are nine independents on the cross bench: socially progressive economic conservative Alex Greenwich rewon Sydney with 42% FPV; gambling reform campaigner Greg Piper rewon Lake Macquarie with 58% FPV; Judy Hannan, backed by Climate 200, won Wollondilly on 26% FPV; Michael Regan, a former mayor who campaigned on affordable housing, won Wakehurt from the Liberals with 37% FPV; health campaigner Joe McGirr rewon Wagga Wagga with 44% FPV; Roy Butler, one of three former Shooters, Fishers and Farmers MPs (SFF) MPs, now independent, rewon Barwon with 46% FPV; gambling reformer Helen Dalton, another SFF breakaway, won Murray with 50% FPV; ex police prosecutor Philip Donato, the third former SFF, retained Orange with 53% FPV. Gareth Ward, suspended from the Liberal Party and contesting charges of sexual assault, has won Kiama (with 39% FPV).

Despite the dire economic and ecological crises the major parties’ campaign was a low-stakes affair: both took pains to offer little and appear as risk averse as possible.

Indeed, both leaders praised each other for the “civility” in which the campaign was conducted during pre-poll.

Although the media went to great lengths to paint the election campaign as a “cliff hanger”, the Coalition’s resounding defeat was no great surprise.

The Coalition had been mired in continuous scandal since 2014. This culminated in disgraced former Premier Gladys Berejiklian having to front the Independent Commission Against Corruption and the breath taking malfeasance of her deputy the National’s John Barilaro.

While corruption and scandal fascinate the political and media elites, the uneven swings away from the Coalition can be better understood in materialist terms.

The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the utter devastation wrought on the state’s essential institutions by more than a decade of the Coalition’s hardline neo-liberalism.

Immediately after the lockdowns were lifted, the streets were filled with striking nurses and teachers.

The same politicians who praised “our essential workers” during COVID-19 were then shown up denying those same workers a living wage. This undoubtedly shifted votes across NSW.

During the Berejiklian era, Coalition MPs were triumphantly boasting about the welter of new tollways across Sydney. These were sold as “productivity boosters” — a nonsense aimed at tradespeople and others.

The enormous cost of using these roads turned them into a poison chalice for the Coalition, with voters in Sydney’s middle and outer-west righteously angry at having to pay upwards of $70 a week to commute to work.

Federal concerns, in particular mortgage rates, also played into the results.

Labor picked up seats where the endangered Australian dream of first-home ownership still survives including Riverstone, East Hills, Penrith, Parramatta and even the South Coast, where a large percentage of first-time mortgage holders resides.

Rising interest rates, coupled with the huge toll-road fees, made these voters eager to punish the incumbents.

Will gestures turn into action?

However, the incoming Labor government gives little hope to address the major issues facing working people despite leader Chris Minns’ gestures toward nurses and teachers during the campaign.

No doubt some sections of organised labour will rightfully get some type of recognition that their real wages need to be bolstered against rising costs of living. But, for the vast majority, who are casual, non-unionised and gig workers, Labor offers nothing against their continued immiseration.

On the climate mitigation front, Labor is in lock step with the NSW Minerals Council and the Property Council of Australia.

The promised Koala Preservation Park in Sydney’s south west is likely to also allow the property lobby to continue to clear-fell land on the urban fringes.

Labor also supports the expansion of gas and coal exploration, including Santos’ Narrabri coal seam gas project, despite opposition from the Gomeroi, farmers and locals who argue it will threaten the Great Artesian Basin.

Fossil fuel corporations are pushing for eight new coal projects to be opened up across NSW, including Newstan mine near Newcastle, the Chain Valley colliery near Mannering Park and the Moolarben mine east of Mudgee.

Results for the Socialist Alliance (SA), which ran grassroots, activist-based campaigns in the inner Sydney seat of Heffron and the coastal seat of Newcastle, were modest but encouraging. State registration rules and costs make it tough for extra-parliamentary small parties.

SA’s Rachel Evans, who works with activist groups to protect public housing in the large Redfern and Waterloo estates, made housing affordability the centrepiece of the campaign in Heffron, where she received nearly 2% of the FPV.

SA’s Niko Leka, a mental health nurse and long-time campaigner for refugee rights and for real action on climate change, received just over 1% in Newcastle.

The SA looks set to get the biggest number of votes for the Legislative Council it has received in the state. With more than 15% of the vote still to be counted, it had gathered more than 14,000 votes across the state.

[James Wyner is a member of Socialist Alliance.]

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