Last weekend we saw the intersection of two elections: the imminent New South Wales poll and the looming federal one. Both the Liberal and Labor parties launched their state campaigns, timed to be on the eve of postal and absentee voting which began on Monday.
Both parties invited their federal leaders along: the Liberals to leave Prime Minister Scott Morrison parked in the front row with no speaking role; Labor to have Bill Shorten as the warm-up act to their state hopeful Michael Daley. This choreography was highly instructive.
The state Liberals, despite briefing journalists that Morrison was a plus in Sydney whereas he was a negative in Melbourne, didn’t risk him over shadowing their show. But if the Prime Minister was problematic for the Berejiklian camp, Tony Abbott was so toxic he was kindly asked not to attend, so he took one for the team and stayed away.
A couple of weeks back, Deputy Premier John Barilaro, fighting to hold onto his marginal seat of Monaro based on Queanbeyan, gave voice to the state coalition’s concerns. He told The Sydney Morning Herald: “If the federal Liberals and Nationals are going woeful, that will rub off, because people think we’re the same.”
Malcolm Turnbull was aware of this danger and had assured his moderate ally Berejilkian that he would hold the federal election before hers. Had he not been cut down last August we would have trudged off to the federal election on 2 March. The wisdom of that plan is now in the realm of “what could’ve been”. But Newspoll on Monday re-enforced the state Liberals’ concerns: their federal cousins are “woeful”. They have just lost their 50th consecutive Newspoll by an increasing margin of 8 points.
State Labor, on the other hand, was buoyed by a Sunday ReachTel poll which had them just in front 51% to 49%. Whatever the poll says, everybody concedes the NSW state election in a fortnight will be a very close run thing.
Worryingly for the Berejiklian coalition – just six seats away from minority or nine from defeat – all the indications are it is travelling very badly in the regions.
The Nationals are in danger of losing the government’s five most marginal seats, which include Monaro and Goulburn. Two by-elections in this term in Wagga and Orange saw massive swings in the order of 20% away from the government.
Not helping the Nationals’ cause is the mayhem in the federal party. There is credible talk of a leadership spill in the April Budget week and the return of the controversial Barnaby Joyce. Joyce has joined rebel Nationals in Queensland calling for the federal underwriting of a new coal fired power station; something Morrison has run away from at a thousand kilometres an hour.
Worse for Morrison, Joyce on Radio National declared war on the Liberals in Sydney and Melbourne saying saving National seats was more important.
More important than retaining government, apparently.