Holding the NSW state seat of Wagga Wagga in a by-election was always going to be a challenge for Gladys Berejiklian’s Liberal government. Handily for Berejiklian, her federal colleagues decided to help out by knifing a Prime Minister a couple of weeks out, putting on display the profound dysfunctionality of a party that is less broad church than rolling civil war, one in which fire is still being exchanged weeks after its alleged conclusion.
Cue a 28% swing and loss of seat, analysed by William Bowe here.
Fortunately NSW Labor — which suffered a small swing against it as well — looks like it will miss out on snaring Wagga Wagga, which will go to (yet another) independent. Fortunately because NSW Labor doesn’t deserve to be anywhere near power for several terms, and Luke Foley’s cynical and mindless oppositionism doesn’t deserve any reward. The O’Farrell/Baird/Berejiklian government has been the best NSW government since Nick Greiner’s first term and continues to deliver; it’s a pity O’Farrell lost his job over an idiotic memory lapse and Baird couldn’t hack it, leaving a less-than-stellar premier in charge to seek a third term. But NSW has prospered under the Liberals and the alternative of Luke Foley and NSW Labor in charge of the nation’s largest economy is one to send shiver down the spine.
This could be another cost of the leadership debacle, beyond the defeat of a Morrison (or whoever) government at a 2019 federal election: the cruelling of the chances of a far better Liberal government in Macquarie St and the delivery of the NSW economy into the hands of amateurs, union appointees and opportunists who have failed to produce anything remotely resembling comprehensive policy. It may also shore up the chances of Daniel Andrews’ mess of a government in Victoria to cling to power, admittedly in the face of an opposition every bit as grubby — what a wretched alternative for Victorians.
There was some kind of justice in the Wagga Wagga result for the Liberals though: the by-election was the result of the previous MP, one Daryl Maguire, being disgraced in a corruption scandal involving the cesspool that was the former Canterbury Council. The Liberals, to their credit, at least had a go at trying to reform the sewer of shonkery and NIMBYism that is local government in Sydney, but wilted in the face of parochialism and Labor’s cynicism. A key reform thus remains only partly done and awaits a real reformer that will strip local government of its power to control development and thus the primary source of corruption in NSW.
The likely winner in Wagga Wagga, Dr Joe McGirr, is also a pointer to how minor party and independent candidates might profit in regional seats from the federal Liberals’ descent into madness, not merely in regional Liberal-held seats but in National-held seats, given how low-profile and uninspiring Nationals leader Michael McCormack is, and in LNP-held seats in Queensland. How many McGirrs, unknown outside their electorates but with community profile and respect within, stand ready to harvest Labor preferences to overhaul Liberal, National and LNP candidates in regional seats? How do you campaign against them? And how many will follow in the path of Windsor, Katter, McGowan and Sharkie and retain the seat beyond a single election? The Nationals will need some strong product differentiation, and quickly — something that isn’t going to help the sense of disunity within the government. But after the Wagga Wagga result and with Newspoll 56-44, it’s every woman for herself.