With only 31 days to the NSW election, the Labor Party is praying that Prime Minister Tony Abbott can hang onto his job … at least until March 28.

Labor’s well-researched campaign is predicated on an anti-Abbott message. It worked in Victoria last November and it worked in Queensland last weekend, so why not NSW as well?

In the two previous state elections, voters put Daniel Andrews in the premier’s job and Annastacia Palaszczuk is within grasp of becoming Queensland’s 49th premier. If Palaszczuk succeeds in forming a government, Labor will have defeated two LNP governments, thrown out after one term.

These precedents have refired Labor’s enthusiasm in NSW because Abbott and his Treasurer, Joe Hockey, are both Sydney MPs in cushy electorates “over the bridge”.

Indeed, one of Abbott’s constituents in his federal seat of Warringah is Premier Mike Baird, who holds the seat of Manly.

Hockey represents North Sydney, which includes some of Sydney’s richest harbourside real estate, including Kirribilli, Cremorne, McMahon’s Point and Hunters Hill.

Just as Premier “Dan” Andrews drew Abbott into his campaign against then-premier Denis Napthine, and Palaszczuk’s posters linked now seatless Premier Campbell Newman and Abbott, new NSW Labor leader Luke Foley is also planning an anti-Abbott campaign. His strategists talk of the forthcoming election as “a referendum on Tony Abbott and his cuts to the NSW budget”.

The anti-Abbott theme was not “discovered” by Labor’s campaign team, it was thrust on them because Baird is so popular and attacking him is regarded as “counter-productive”.

Since replacing Barry O’Farrell last April, 46-year-old Baird has impressed voters with his energy and style. As a result, his approval rating is running at around 60% while the new Opposition Leader Luke Foley, chosen to replace John Robertson in January, is scarcely known.

Unwilling to “go negative” on Baird, Foley’s supporters see great mileage in focusing on Abbott who has become a figure of ridicule and detestation among a wide range of voters, from young to old.

NSW voters should prepare for newspaper advertisements, posters and TV ads linking Baird with Abbott (and Hockey) and calling on voters “to send a message to Canberra”.

This strategy has produced its own tension because some party chiefs believe the ALP should devote the campaign to talking up a victory (i.e. repeating the victories of Victoria and Queensland) and not aiming for a mere protest vote.

For the time being, NSW Labor wants Abbott to hang around for a bit longer because he appears to be the single most important item on their election campaign radar.

Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten agrees. He campaigned successfully in Victoria and Queensland, raising the profile of federal Labor as well as his own. He plans to do the same thing in NSW next month.

The questions swirling around the political classes in Sydney are these: Will Abbott campaign for Mike Baird? Will he speak at the Liberal Party’s official launch? Will he go on the campaign trail like Shorten? Or will Baird follow Campbell Newman’s lead and ask him to stay away?

Which begs the question: if the PM is so on the nose in key states like Victoria, Queensland and NSW why would his Canberra party room be so desperate to hang onto him?

As noted on many occasions in the past, they live in another world.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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