Next Saturday’s four by-elections in NSW will show the electoral toxicity of the Labor Government and whether the Liberals are capturing disillusioned voters to become a bankable alternative government.

Three Labor-held Sydney seats are up for grabs. Former Premier Morris Iemma’s seat of Lakemba with a 34.5 per cent Labor margin, Health Minister Reba Meagher’s seat of Cabramatta which Labor holds with a 29 per cent margin and former Deputy Premier John Wakins’ seat of Ryde with a 10.2 per cent margin.

The Sun Herald’s weekend poll concentrated on Ryde where Labor’s primary vote has imploded to 24 per cent while the Liberals are on 52 per cent. But with 25 per cent of voters either Chinese, Korean and Japanese, and few of them tested in the poll, the Liberals would be wise to keep the champagne in the fridge until late on Saturday night.

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Labor’s real disaster-in-waiting isn’t Ryde on the North Shore which the Liberals held until 1995 but Cabramatta, in the Labor heartland, which has been in ALP hands since coming into existence in 1981.

“Grim Reba” Meagher was gifted the seat by the NSW Labor machine in 1994 following the assassination of the sitting MP John Newman by an ALP rival.

She never faced a single pre-selection during her 14-year political career and showed her contempt for the electorate by living in a posh unit at the beachside suburb of Coogee.

In a move of mind-numbing stupidity, the machine has chosen another right-wing party hack, 60-something Fairfield City Mayor Nick Lalich, as its candidate.

He made headlines a few years ago by visiting Newman’s convicted assassin, former Fairfield deputy mayor Phuong Ngo, in Long Bay Jail. And last week it was revealed that his business friends organized a fund-raising lunch which collected tens of thousands of dollars for his campaign. Among the guests was western Sydney businessman Pat Sergi who appeared in the pages of the Woodward royal commission into drug trafficking 20 years ago.

For the record, Sergi, who is a personal friend of Ports Minister and Fairfield MP Joe Tripodi, was never charged with any offence and remains a blameless citizen.

Lalich is running an expensive, low-key campaign which plays down the ALP brand. His posters simply say: “Go local, go Lalich” whatever that means.

He has yet to indicate whether he will attend a candidates’ forum in front of a public audience to be held at a local club tonight.

The Liberal candidate, a Vietnamese-born journalist Dai Le, has emerged as a formidable campaigner who has enjoyed on-the-ground support from O’Farrell and his shadow cabinet as well as former Premier Nick Greiner.

Can she overcome Labor’s 29 per cent margin? With Lalich as its candidate and the fugitive Meagher as its former member, Cabramatta is ready to spring a major upset.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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