The phoney war between Premier Mike Baird’s Coalition government and the Labor opposition ends this weekend.
From next week, the gloves come off and the two sides have 28 days to arouse the interest of a very cynical electorate.
Politicians, politics and election promises are distinctly on the nose in NSW, thanks to the federal performance of the permanently deceitful Abbott government and the succession of NSW scandals exposed at the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
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City and rural voters have been driven into a state of anger and cynicism by political hype, spin doctoring, phoney polls and a failure to deliver on campaign pledges.
Both election contestants are lightweights. Mike Baird, 46, has been leader of the Coalition since last April when Barry O’Farrell resigned over the bottle of Grange scandal, while Luke Foley, 45, took over Labor’s leadership in January. Neither has led an election campaign, which is a visceral test of political leadership capable of making or breaking a politician. Just ask Queensland’s Campbell Newman or Victoria’s Denis Napthine — two Liberal premiers dumped after just one term.
Foley is doubly disadvantaged. He doesn’t yet have a seat in the Legislative Assembly. He must win the western Sydney seat of Auburn to officially take the title of opposition leader.
The broad shape of the contest is already clear. Baird wants to sell 50% of the poles and wires of the electricity industry, raising $20 billion to finance long-needed infrastructure projects such as motorways, tunnels, light rail links, hospitals and schools.
Labor opposes the proposed sell-off, but in the most half-hearted fashion. Having attempted to flog the power industry in 1998 and 2008, Labor is hardly in a position to take the moral high ground against the Coalition’s sale, and its opposition sounds hollow.
Baird strategists are focusing on the state’s re-energised economy, jobs growth and business optimism to gain re-election on March 28.
Their trump card is an advertising campaign to remind voters of the 16 years of the scandal-ridden Labor government and some of its high-profile scoundrels such as Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald.
Labor, which will conduct its official launch at Campbelltown on Sunday, March 1, has chosen to run a scare campaign. Its major themes will be that Baird is in league with Tony Abbott, who achieved bogeyman status after the outcome of the recent Queensland election. Labor will also warn that a re-elected Baird government will privatise TAFE, and that the hospital and school systems also face privatisation.
In short, voters will have to decide between Mike Baird’s promise of a master plan for infrastructure or Luke Foley’s scaremongering.
Labor’s options are restricted. It can’t run on its record in government, nor its lacklustre record in opposition under John “Robbo” Robertson, when policy development was non-existent.
The Coalition is streets ahead in the polls and Baird is outpolling Foley by a colossal margin.
But therein lies a danger for the Coalition. Incumbency and good polling encourages complacency. Baird’s senior staff strut around exuding smugness. They guffaw at the leader’s jokes and, in their eyes, he can do no wrong.
Super confident that their candidate will win, they are letting Foley and Labor get away with blue murder. True to their class colours, the Libs are going to lunch at the members’ lounge of their favourite CBD club, while Foley and his disreputable accomplices at party head office in Sussex Street are going to war.