NSW Election duopoly
(Image: AAP/Lukas Coch)

With an abundance of regional-level narratives prevailing across the state, the unexpected was expected at Saturday’s New South Wales election. In the end, however, the surprise turned out to be that actually the expected should have been the expected, as the result ended up being a near perfect replication of the one in 2015.

The main change worth noting was a shift from larger to smaller parties, with the Liberals, Nationals, Labor and the Greens all down slightly on the aggregate primary vote, collectively amounting to a substantial 5%.

The single-member lower house voting system being what it is, this was not immediately apparent if you focused on seat totals.

The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party provided the exception to the rule, in that they look to have come through in the Nationals-held seats they targeted to exploit anger over management of the Murray-Darling system, adding to the one seat they held already.

Other than that, there were a number of dogs that failed to bark — the Nationals did not suffer their feared wipeout on the northern coast, the Liberals maintained their regional seats, and the backlash over Michael Daley’s comments on Asian immigration did not cost Labor any seats, despite solid swings in the Chinese community stronghold of Kogarah and in Michael Daley’s own seat of Maroubra.

While a handful of results are still up in the air, it seems unlikely the Coalition will lose the six seats that would have cost it its majority, with Labor appearing to be headed for anaemic gain of two seats, and the Nationals more likely than not to hold on in a tight tussle against an independent in Dubbo.

It was an unexpectedly cheering night for the Greens, who defied a long period of demoralising infighting to record substantial swings in all three of their existing lower house seats, and came close to nabbing a fourth at the expense of the Nationals in Lismore, which instead looks like falling to Labor.

While this partly reflects Labor’s poor show, it also illustrates the resilience of the party’s support in what can now be described as its heartland — which can be taken to include the coast around Byron Bay, as well as the Sydney and Melbourne inner city.

For Labor’s sake, it should be hoped that a debate reportedly raging within the party as to whether it should devote resources to knocking over Adam Bandt in Melbourne is resolved in the negative.

Nonetheless, the Greens shouldn’t lose sight of the implications of their stagnating primary vote, which has now gone backwards in state elections in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania since the start of last year.

The increasing geographic concentration of its support may be standing it in good stead in lower house seats, but it’s in upper houses where most of the party’s action is, most significantly in the Senate — and the result in Victoria, which slashed its representation from five seats to one, shows how vulnerable it can be to even modest falls in support.

The Greens are on course for two upper house seats in New South Wales to add to the two carrying over from the 2015 election, which fails to match their result in the admittedly extraordinary circumstances of 2011, reducing their representation from five to four (although they had already lost the fifth seat when Jeremy Buckingham quit in December).

The overall shape of the upper house result unclear, with the Electoral Commission having thus far produced only a highly limited count.

However, it’s now known that Mark Latham will be taking a seat under the banner of One Nation — the first member of that party to have been elected to the New South Wales parliament since David Oldfield in 1999, whose relationship with the party lasted for 18 months after his election.

Such was the strength of the none-of-the-above vote that Latham stands to be joined by an array of minor party cross-benchers, which may include a second One Nation member and perhaps also outgoing Liberal Democrats Senator David Leyonhjelm — this time without the help of a corruptible system of group voting tickets.

As for federal implications, Labor have been given a useful reminder of how badly things can go wrong over the course of an election campaign, particularly in its sensitive late stages.

For the Liberals, the result is certainly encouraging on one level — but they should bear in mind that it has been achieved with advantages they have contrived to deprive themselves of at the federal level, namely an image of moderation and diversity in gender and cultural representation.

Peter Fray

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