Victoria is getting most of the political attention this week, but there’s some interesting news out of New South Wales with the release of two state opinion polls.

The more well-established one, by ACNielsen in The SMH, puts Morris Iemma’s Labor party ahead 51%-49% two-party-preferred. Galaxy Research, published in The Daily Telegraph gives much the same message: a Labor lead of 52-48.

This comes on top of a horror couple of weeks for the NSW government. If the opposition was ever going to take the lead, surely this would be the time; as Nielsen’s John Stirton said, “It is hard to conceive of a worse period for NSW Labor or a better opportunity for the Coalition”.

But opposition leader Peter Debnam – whose own approval ratings are also down – is still falling well short. A 49-51 result might sound close, but the opposition actually needs more than 52% on a uniform swing to win government.

In the circumstances, the 9-10 odds that Centrebet is offering on Labor, although not as good as the 6-4 available in the middle of last year, look pretty generous.

Both polls show dissatisfaction with the major parties and a very large likely vote for minor parties and independents. Yet the opposition is making life even more difficult for itself by refusing to contemplate a deal with the independents, who already number seven in the NSW lower house.

According to the SMH, Nationals state leader Andrew Stoner, made the remarkable claim that “The current independents, except for Clover Moore, are all Labor aligned”. In reality, Moore is the only one who could reasonably be described as on the left; the others are all more or less conservative and sit for what would otherwise be safe non-Labor seats.

But the National Party, true to form, knows that beating Labor is a secondary consideration. Most of the independents are in the bush, and the Nationals have to beat them to ensure their own survival – even though, without them, Debnam’s already difficult target will recede towards the impossible.

Peter Fray

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