First is the Central Coast, separated from Sydney by the Hawkesbury River but otherwise mostly suburban in character. Its four seats could all at a stretch be called marginal, but the goat s-x affair seems to have put Wyong (ALP, 12.3%) out of reach.
Labor is also defending The Entrance (9.7%) and Gosford (8.6%), formerly called Peats. The Liberals were optimistic about both a few weeks ago, but Labor are back to being strong favourites. The Liberals have a strong candidate for Gosford in former mayor Chris Holstein, but he will be hurt by the independent candidacy of Debra Wales, who stood for them in 1999 and 2003 but was beaten by Holstein for preselection.
There is also the state’s most marginal Liberal seat, Terrigal (0.6%), formerly (and confusingly) called Gosford. Sitting member Chris Hartcher, a key Liberal powerbroker, had a very close call last time, and the way the party is travelling he could be in for another nailbiter on election night.
Further north is the greater Newcastle or Hunter region, home to several safe Labor seats plus a few that are not looking as safe as they used to. The resignation of Swansea MP Milton Orkopoulos after s-xual assault and drug charges has been merely the most spectacular episode in a thoroughly bad stretch for the local ALP.
The main Liberal threat is in Port Stephens (7.2%); this is a must-win seat for the opposition, but at Sportingbet they have now blown out to 7-5 against.
Labor is also under attack from independents in at least two seats. In Maitland (10.3%) Peter Blackmore, who once held the seat as a Liberal, has been polling well, although Labor still seems to be in front. The threat is greater in Newcastle (15.4%), where there are two prominent independents: sitting member Bryce Gaudry, dumped by Labor in a messy preselection battle, and lord mayor John Tate.
Although Labor is clearly worried, optional preferential voting could mean that with Gaudry, Tate and the Liberals splitting the anti-Labor vote, none of them will be able to overtake Labor’s Jodi McKay. Another local mayor is running in Lake Macquarie (11.6%), but Labor looks less likely to be troubled there.
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The north coast is mostly safe Coalition territory – indeed, mostly National Party, since the Liberals have vacated the ground to them despite increasing urbanisation. But in the far north is Labor’s most marginal seat, Tweed (4.0%), where on all accounts sitting member Neville Newell is neck and neck with his Nationals challenger Geoff Provist. If Labor holds on here it will be bad news for the opposition, but might provide the incentive for the Liberals to insist on contesting the seat next time.
Labor also used to hold Clarence (5.3%), the Nationals’ most marginal seat, but the redistribution has increased the margin and they seem to have given up hope of getting it back this time. Further south, Robert Oakeshott looks the least threatened of the state’s independents in the former Nationals seat of Port Macquarie.