Details are leaking out of yet another reshuffle of the NSW opposition (here), but the question keeps getting louder and louder. Can the conservatives actually win in the Premier State?

Premier
Bob Carr is on the nose. He tried to win some short-term political
capital yesterday with a wonk’s wedge, putting up a bill to change
parliamentarians’ oath of allegiance to one to Australia and their
constituents, rather than Our gracious Sovereign Lady, the Queen (here) – a crass attempt to split monarchists and republicans in the Liberal party and the Nationals.

John
Brogden didn’t swallow the bait. He portrayed it, rightly, as a
distraction from “the real issues”, and the opposition voted against
the bill on those lines. That was smart politics – but will this
emphasis on “the issues” make J-Bro premier? Some social and political
trends might be running hard against him.

Over the last week, major features have appeared in the Sydney Morning Heraldand then The Australianwarning
about the power of the hard religious right in the NSW Liberal Party.
No doubt a lot of decaf soy lattés have gone cold as members of the
chattering classes have discussed this menace. This will be another
doctors’ wives’ issue come election time, if Labor and its media mates
play it properly. It will threaten Liberal votes in the city.

The
Libs seem unable to find a candidate for Manly. What should be a safe
seat seems to have fallen firmly into independent hands. A rag tag bag
loaded down with local government baggage seem to dominate the local
party – and no-one believes the party’s promises to replace the traffic
snarl of The Spit bridge with a tunnel.

Even more worrying,
however, must be the rise of country independents – and the death of
the Nationals. Dubbo, Northern Tablelands, Tamworth and Port Macquarie
should all be safe National seats. They’re gone. Coffs Harbour and
Ballina may be at risk. New South Wales pundits think the Nats will
lose a seat and gain one on paper in the next redistribution, leaving
the Liberals’ country cousins with just ten MPs after the next poll.

The
only bright spot might be the inner-city seat of Bligh – if Clover
Moore decides that being Lord Mayor of Sydney is actually a full-time
job – but given the, er, diverse demographics of that electorate who
knows how it would go. With votes wandering in the city and the bush
revolting, can the NSW conservatives actually win enough seats to gain
office – no matter how shonky Carr & Co are?

Peter Fray

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