Orange by-election disaster for NSW Coalition

The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, which received Labor preferences, has a chance of upsetting the Nationals in the Orange by-election.

The NSW Coalition government is in deep trouble after the disastrous by-election in the rural seat of Orange on November 12 in which the Nationals suffered a 34% swing against it.

Nationals state leader and Deputy Premier Troy Grant has been forced to resign, and has been replaced by John Barilaro.

The swing was the highest ever recorded in a NSW by-election, with some booths reporting a swing away from the Nationals of more than 60%. It is now possible the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party (SFFP) candidate, Philip Donato, could win the seat on Labor preferences.

Some commentators have dubbed the Orange debacle a local result of the international “Trump effect”.

Certainly, the SFFP is on the right and it is suspected that much of the protest vote may have gone to Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party if it had been registered in NSW and contested the by-election.

Clearly, there was a strong “anti-establishment” sentiment and a widespread feeling among the Nationals’ traditional rural base that they were acting as “puppets” of Premier Mike Baird’s “Sydney elite”-based Liberal Party.

There was reportedly a vigorous backlash against the Coalition government on the now reversed ban on greyhound racing and the continuing forced amalgamation of local councils.

Both these issues have run hot in urban areas as well, and contributed to major swings against the government to Labor and others in the recent NSW local council elections.

Although the NSW Nationals have attempted to limit the damage by declaring a “clean slate” after appointing a new leader, the rift between the party and its rural base is not going to be easily bridged.

The Orange by-election and other election results indicate a deepening loss of support for the major parties, with swings both to the right and to the left in NSW and Victorian council elections this year.

Mayor of Orange John Davis told the ABC on November 14 he believed the Nationals’ candidate Scott Barrett had faced an uphill battle.

“He’s been caught in a perfect storm and the perfect storm I think is [council] amalgamations, the American election, and also I think it's people power,” Davis said.

“I think there's a thought out there that we don't matter. A lot of seats where there's a big majority, you go and look after the people who are [in] borderline [seats].”

In the wake of the Orange disaster, Baird has launched a war on the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).

On November 16, he rammed a bill through parliament that will radically restructure ICAC, effectively sacking ICAC Commissioner Megan Latham.

Balmain MP and NSW Greens anti-corruption spokesperson Jamie Parker responded by saying: “Considering it was the work of the ICAC that recently exposed the dodgy activity of so many Liberal MPs it is hardly surprising that the government is now seeking payback.

“We’ve already seen the government renege on its commitments to fully fund the ICAC and strip it of close to $2 million, forcing it to close one of its four investigation teams. This bill gives the Liberal government the opportunity to stack the ICAC with commissioners who are less pro-active in pursuing corrupt politicians.

“The bill will fatally undermine the independence of the commission and add unnecessary costs that should be spent on front-line investigations. It clearly exposes the government's agenda to destroy the ICAC.

“The proposed changes are a transparent attempt by the Liberals to rein in the one body that keeps them honest. The public of NSW demands and expects a strong, independent corruption-fighting body that is given the same powers as similar bodies in other states and territories.”

To further complicate matters for Baird, newly installed Nationals leader and Deputy Premier Barilaro has now been accused of receiving illegal donations from a “property development” company owned by his wife.

If this scandal is referred to the NSW Electoral Commission, the government could find itself in even deeper hot water.

Premier Baird should follow the example of his Coalition predecessor, Barry O'Farrell, and resign immediately.

Like the article?  to Green Left now! You can also  us on Facebook and  on Twitter.