Special Report: New South Wales election

On Saturday 23 March, Australia’s largest state New South Wales (NSW) will go to an election where the result will likely be close. If neither party wins the 47 seats required for majority government, a hung parliament will be declared, and the major parties will negotiate with the crossbench to form government.

What is the Current state of play?

The centre-right NSW Coalition Government — the narrow favourite — currently holds 52 of the 93 Legislative Assembly seats, while the centre-left NSW Labor Opposition holds 34 seats. With a recent Newspoll showing both sides equal on the two-party preferred measure, the Government could easily lose the six seats which currently ensure its majority status.

Campaign issues

The Government, led by Premier Gladys Berejiklian, has based its campaign around its economic record, and infrastructure agenda. However slower than expected project completions, and a range of policy back-flips and failures on council mergers, greyhound racing and water management has resulted in a disjointed pitch to voters. The Opposition has sought to exploit these weak points, whilst emphasising proposed health and education spending, and criticising the government for its unpopular and expensive sports stadium upgrades. Opposition Leader Michael Daley made some headway early in the campaign, but this week has suffered a set-back following the revelation of previous controversial comments on immigration.

Implications of a hung parliament

Should hung parliament negotiations be required, the Government has the advantage of a crossbench with slightly more conservatives than progressives. However, multiple crossbenchers have already pledged their support to the party with the highest two-party preferred vote. Despite its current control of seats, the incumbent NSW Government may not achieve the largest share of votes. Due to the Coalition’s inflated margins stemming from their 2011 landslide victory, it may struggle to hold several historically Labor-controlled seats, particularly in Western Sydney. After eight years and multiple leadership changes for both parties, many of these seats could return to Labor with significant swings.

Minority government would cause some uncertainty in NSW politics, but history has shown minority status is more common and more manageable at the state level than for federal governments. A Coalition victory will see considerable continuity from the previous term, with the Government maintaining its focus on infrastructure spending. Conversely, the Opposition frontbench is relatively inexperienced, so a Labor Cabinet may take longer to master the processes of government. Whichever party is successful, governing will be complicated by the recent terrorist attack in Christchurch, as the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party — which supports more lenient gun laws — may hold the balance of power.

Will federal politics affect the result?

Federal factors will affect the result, especially ongoing dissatisfaction with the federal Coalition following the August 2018 leadership challenges. This may be less pronounced in NSW than in the Victorian election given demographic differences and the longer interval since the leadership upheaval. Nevertheless, recent instability in the federal National Party will exacerbate this, especially given the high number of marginal regional seats in NSW.

Will the result affect federal politics?

A hung parliament in NSW may have federal implications. If negotiations last for more than a week, it may distract from the Federal Budget on April 2, and the federal Government’s economic message. Alternatively, if there is an unexpectedly large swing against the Coalition, this may put previously safe federal seats into play at the May election.