For the past 16 years, the government of the Australian state of New South Wales (where Sydney is located) has been controlled by the Labor Party (Australia’s center left party, similar to the Democrats here in the US). While for 16 years the opposition, in the form of the Liberal/National Coalition (Australia’s answer to the GOP) has toiled away in the shadows waiting for their chance to end their 16 year time in the desert.
Come March 26, 2011, its a near certainty that the Liberals will be in control of NSW as the Labor government under the leadership of American born Premier Kristina Keneally heads for a landslide defeat with the first poll of the election showing Labor behind double digits in both primary and 2PP (two party preference) polling and facing a whopping loss of over 2/3rds of their seats in the state parliament.
A landslide loss like the one Labor is facing and the one that befell Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats in the House in November of last year would be the topping off of some of the most tumultuous years ever to befall NSW Labor as they went through no less than three premiers in four years, scandals ranging from kickbacks for staffers, DUI convictions, spouses found using drugs to the fallout from the Keneally government’s botched attempt to privatize the state’s electricity system and to the wrath of Sydney commuters fed up of waiting in traffic and being packed into late trains, some of which don’t even have air conditioning.
And a Liberal victory in NSW would put a dagger through the heart of the Australian Labor party as the party draws upon much of its organizational and financial support from the state. PM Julia Gillard owes her job to the help of party power brokers in NSW.
It would mark another woe for Federal Labor as the party has seen its once complete control of all the Australian states shattered with Liberal victories in Western Australia in 2008 and in Gillard’s own backyard of Victoria in 2010, the latter of which only decided by a handful of votes in a seat in Melbourne’s suburbs. The party is also facing a loss in not only NSW, but in Queensland as the Bligh government’s support languishes in opinion polls.
This diary of the NSW state elections will be broken into two parts, one detailing NSW Labor’s electoral woes and the second focusing on three major issues, corruption, public transportation and power privatization, issues that have helped bring Labor down in the polls. This diary will first deal with Labor’s electoral woes.
What no better way to start talking about Labor’s impending electoral disaster is to first start talking about a recent poll done by Nielsen on behalf of the Sydney Morning Herald which brought nothing but bad news for NSW Labor.
The Liberals was far ahead with 53%, followed by Labor with a whopping 22% of the vote and followed by the Greens at 13% of the vote. When 2PP is taken into account, the Liberals remains far ahead with 64% of the vote to Labor’s 33%. Labor’s in Blanche Lincoln territory at this point. Reporters were quick to point out that Labor’s standing in the poll was the lowest a major party ever received in Nielsen’s 40 year history. 54% of voters also preferred the opposition leader Barry O’Farrell as premier to Kristina Keneally’s 36% of voters preferring she remain premier.
If the Liberals’ vote swings by 18% as predicted by this poll, Labor would lose up to 35 seats, wiping out MP’s in both marginal and safe seats. Backbenchers like former premier Nathan Rees, and cabinet ministers would find themselves out of parliament on election day. Labor would be reduced to only 17 seats in parliament. The Liberals only needs a 8% swing in the vote to claim an outright majority. And Premier Keneally might also wind up losing her seat as well as the Greens make an aggressive play for her seat of Heffron which Keneally carried by 24% in the last election. The Greens are hoping voter discontent and Liberal voters preferencing the Greens (Australia has ranked choice voting) will carry the day for them. Keneally’s seat also takes in the towns of Merrickville and Randwick which have Green councilors, mayors and a growing Green vote.
This is not without precedent as former Coalition PM John Howard lost his own seat of Bennalong in the Sydney suburbs in 2007 to political newcomer. The Liberals won that seat back last year. And in an attempt to hold that seat, PM Gillard made a very big promise during the campaign that is being used as political football this year, something I will go more into detail the next diary.
Labor’s languishing standing in the polls has been noticeable for the last two years. In fact according to the Daily Telegraph (one of Robert Murdoch’s right wing Australian rags so treat this with a big of grain of salt as you wish) Nathan Rees when he was still premier had the Labor Party poll the seat of Kogarah, which Labor carried with a 17.7% in September of 2009. And despite the fact this was one of Murdoch’s right wing newspapers…..Kogarah is considered one of the seat that could flip if Labor does not find a way to close the gap in the polls. As they say, a broken clock is right twice a day.
Labor received an unwelcome advanced screening of the potential carnage awaiting them in March during June of last year. In June of last year, a special election was held to fill the seat of Penrith that became vacant when Labor MP Karyn Paluzzano was found guilty of using taxpayer money for her reelection campaign. In that election, the Liberals easily picked up the seat earning 51% of the vote to Labor’s 24% to the Greens 13%. And when 2PP was applied, the Liberals took 66% of the vote to Labor’s 34%, a record setting swing of 25% towards the Liberals. And adding insult to injury, the Greens earned more votes than Labor in four polling booths. This was also the first time in two decades that a western Sydney seat had fallen to the Liberal party. And as one reporter put it, “…she [Kristina Keneally] faces the uncomfortable reality that voters everywhere could be waiting with baseball bats for this government.”
Labor also faces the unsettling fact that they are defending a disproportionally large amount of seats in parliament, 19 to the Liberal/National coalition’s 7. And Labor could lose up to 11 of those open seats if the Liberals maintain their overwhelming lead in the polls. And if the Penrith special election leaves any clues, one of those seats, Drummoyne is already gone. Angela D’Amore, the Labor MP holding that seat was was found guilty of giving her staff kickbacks and was stripped of her right to contest the seat by Keneally. D’Amore only carried the seat by a 7.6% margin last time.
Labor also suffered another headache 10 days ago when Nico Mathews, the Labor candidate contesting the Liberal held seat of Albury was forced to withdraw from the race after being charged with drunk (drink – yes they call it drink there) driving. Not that it really mattered anyway, the Liberal party carried the seat by a 19% margin in 2007.
Though that could be sort of balanced out when a Liberal candidate for the seat of Granville found it necessary to argue with a police officer on camera about why his truck with a mobile billboard promoting his candidacy was parked illegally near an campaign event Keneally was holding. The incident was even stranger when Liberal party volunteers came up to Keneally asking for her autograph. Then again, a few attendees at CPAC 2010 were asking Rachel Maddow for her autograph so I guess its not that too uncommon.
Anyway, the campaign season has began in earnest, with Kristina Keneally using her party’s election kickoff to apologize to voters for Labor’s troubles and asking the voters to put their trust in her party again. She also used the event to roll out her, “Fairness for Families” package which would cap government taxes, fees, public transport fares and giving power rebates to households earning less than $150k Australian dollars.
The “Fairness for Families” package has been a central talking point in Labor TV ads and the Liberals have blasted the package in their TV ads to the tune of, “Same old Labor, same old tricks. Same old Labor, same old failure!”
The parties also locked horns when Barry O’Farrell released his plan to help lower home prices by giving developers 10,000 more blocks of land in Western Sydney to build homes on. Labor quickly pounced on the plan with Keneally accusing O’Farrell of wanting to put 500,000 more people in Western Sydney without the roads, train lines and infrastructure to support such a large increase in population. O’Farrell snapped back saying Western Sydney is tired of hearing Keneally and Labor’s attacks and argued that his plan would help people in the long haul.
Keneally and O’Farrell also clashed over public transportation at a debate in Penrith a few weeks ago. Keneally said that O’Farrell was saying the Liberals would not build, “one new kilometer of road, not one new kilometer of rail” to which O’Farrell angrily snapped back, “North west rail link!” Currently the Labor government is pledging to fast track the building of two new commuter rail lines, the Western Express and Epping to Parramatta line. While the Liberals are pledging to instead focus on building the North West and South West rail links first.
As Keneally pledges to fight up to election day, many in the media have already written the Labor government’s obituary. Though Barry O’Farrell is wise not to start holding victory parties yet, he is keeping his cool. With all its troubles, NSW Labor can be comforted by one fact, the Coalition (Liberals/Nationals) are probably not going to win control of the upper house (Legislative counsel). The Greens are hoping to gain two more seats in the upper house.
And if Labor somehow holds onto power come March 26th, they would of pulled off one of the biggest upsets in political history….
And this is the end of this diary. If you read through all of this, congratulations! I hope you learned a little bit about Australian politics reading this like I did writing this diary. And thank you to BenjamindIsraeli for passing on some tips about how to read Australian polling. The next diary will detail some of the issues that are sinking the Labor government this election. Until next time!
Note: The links to the polling I have referenced are listed below: