25 March 2019: Voters in NSW have delivered the Liberal National Government its third term in Government. Leader and Premier Gladys Berejiklian took to the stage at the Sofitel Sydney Wentworth on Saturday night to declare victory after it became clear the Coalition could form a government – either in its own right or with cross bench support.
It was a record-breaking moment on a number of fronts: the first Premier to lead a third term government in NSW for almost 40 years; and the first woman to be elected Premier in the state.
For Berejiklian, the Sydney-born daughter of Armenian immigrants, who started school not speaking English, it was a significant personal victory. As she told the audience, the vote showed NSW is “a state in which someone with a long surname – and a woman – can be the premier,” and that “no matter what your background … everyone has the chance to be their best”.
It was a victory but not a resounding one. In a campaign that had the two major party’s neck and neck the whole way, voters handed victory to the Coalition with what seems like an ambivalent shrug, rather than an enthusiastic cheer. As one observer from a polling station noted: there were no baseball bats out, but there wasn’t much love. The Liberal Party suffered a statewide swing of 2.4% against it; the National Party, a swing of 0.8% away.
The Labor party – who needed a uniform statewide swing of 6.7% if it was to have a shot at forming a minority government – suffered a negative swing of 1%. The only party to make any real ground this election was the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, who gained a 3.2% swing and picked up two seats from the National Party. One of these seats, the sprawling regional electorate of Barwon, has never been held by anyone except the Country/National party before. If they weren’t already, alarm bells would now be ringing loud and clear in National party offices at both a state and federal level.
Still, while Berejiklian may have only just crept home to victory, she has secured the most important prize: four more years of government.
This gives her the platform to implement an ambitious agenda – including spending another $87 billion on infrastructure – but also an opportunity to complete currently unfinished business. WestConnex, the CBD and south-east light rail project, and the demolition and rebuild of Allianz Stadium are all signature Government projects that have to date been attracting more negative headlines and public criticism than applause. With four more years, Berejiklian has a chance to turn these from headaches into signature achievements.
The Campaign – Sackings, Stadiums and Stuff-Ups
The 2019 election campaign was plodding until the relatively new Opposition Leader Michael Daley captured the headlines with a daring tactic: promising to sack the politically powerful radio broadcaster Alan Jones from the Sydney Cricket Ground Trust over the Government’s decision to demolish Allianz Stadium, in a live radio interview with Jones himself.
Daley’s move initially paid off: the spotlight was thrown on the new leader and the ALP redoubled its campaign under the slogan “schools and hospitals before stadiums”. While the Government appeared caught off guard, they soon regrouped with a message of “NSW should have it all”; schools and hospitals and stadiums.
Opinion polling had the two major parties on equal standing and it looked like a real competition was underway – until the final week, when Daley’s campaign was hit by self- inflicted catastrophe. Leaked footage showed Daley telling an audience that Asian workers were taking young people’s jobs.
While Daley insisted he was talking about housing affordability in Sydney and was not being racist, it was impossible to ignore how redolent the comments were with the old racist trope of Australia being ‘swamped’ by Asians. This was followed by a poor performance from Daley in the second election debate and the shine of the brave newcomer suddenly dimmed.
In reality, there were little major points of difference in the platforms of the Coalition and the ALP. Both were promising more infrastructure, more teachers, more hospitals. Points of difference were over the Allianz Stadium and niche issues: The Coalition promised to double the Active Kids Voucher; the Labor Party promised to ban single use plastic bags. In the end, voters who may have been looking for Michael Daley to give them a reason to throw out a Government decided he didn’t have a good one, and it was better to stay the course with the Coalition.
This is what the Coalition has promised:
- Start construction Sydney Metro West –an $18 billion-plus metro line from central city to Parramatta next year.
- Start construction on metro line from St Marys to the new airport at Badgerys Creek in 2021.
- Start planning over the next four years on a major expansion of metro train lines in Sydney’s west.
- Reduce the weekly cap on Opal fares to $50.
- Recruit 4600 extra teachers
- Clear the school maintenance backlog down to zero
- Expand before and after school care to give access to every child
- A commitment of $500m in funding for new buildings for non-government schools.
- $1.4 billion Climate Change fund
- Aspirational target of net zero emissions by 2050
- Priority is clean, reliable and affordable energy.
- Will hire 8,300 frontline health workers over the next four years at a cost of $2.8 billion
- Upgrades to a number of hospitals including St George, Ryde, Royal Prince Alfred, the Children’s Hospital at Westmead and redevelop Bankstown-Lidcombe Hospital
- Will double the Active Kids Voucher program, which gives every school-aged child a $100 voucher to spend on sport.
- Will reopen Sydney’s Theatre Royal and commit to a 45-year lease at the 1,180-seat venue
- Commence a two-year project to transform the Concert Hall at the Sydney Opera House with improvements to the acoustics and a major reconfiguration and extension of the stage
- Allocate an additional $60 million over four years for public libraries
- A new gallery and collection storage at Bundanon on the Shoalhaven River, costing almost $9 million
- Continue with the new Museum at Parramatta, an expansion of the Museum Discovery Centre at Castle Hill and planning for a Museum of Design and Fashion in the Ultimo creative industries precinct.
- A package including cheaper insurance premiums, better deals on energy bills, and payroll tax cuts.
So, what happens now?
While it’s possible Berejiklian will get the numbers to form a majority government, at best she will only have a majority of three – a position from where a government is only a few resignations and by-elections away from minority government. Berejiklian will be looking to cultivate strong relationships with the three independents from early on; she has ruled out accepting the support of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party to form government, saying the minor party’s gun policies are a danger to NSW. Michael Daley has said he will stay on as Opposition Leader. However, with a significant swing against him in his own seat of Maroubra and his now infamous comments about Asian workers forever on the record, a future challenge would not be unexpected.
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