A mix of celebration and sadness at Labor's Riley Campbell's campaign headquarters (Image: Amber Schultz)

The electorates of Hughes in Sydney’s south and the bushfire-ravaged electorates of Gilmore and Eden-Monaro along the southern coast of NSW were ones to watch.

Early polling showed Hughes independent Georgia Steele could take the seat and NSW Liberal Party favourite Andrew Constance was shaking things up for Gilmore — despite many residents being fed up at the lack of support after the Black Summer bushfires.

Meanwhile, Eden-Gilmore Liberal candidate Jerry Nockles became a controversial figure after it was revealed he might not live in the electorate while attempting to take on popular Labor MP Kristy McBain. 

But the seats stayed Liberal, swung Liberal, and stayed Labor respectively.

Despite early support, Steele’s polling results sat at about 15% across the night — there was an initial rush of support during early counts, but it quickly slowed. It’s not a bad outcome for someone who has just entered politics — but disappointing that the $610,000 in donations couldn’t make a dent.

Volunteers say they’ll keep working for the electorate — the “lights won’t be switched off” in the Steele squad office.

Despite a mass walkout at a Hughes forum, United Australia Party candidate Craig Kelly — who famously left the Liberal Party over his anti-lockdown and anti-vaccine mandate views — scored a surprising 7.5% of the vote. This, Steele tells Crikey, was a failure of democracy: “It’s disappointing that the influence of money in politics can have this impact.”

Labor’s Riley Campbell was disappointed, but felt he had put up a fair fight. There were whoops and cheers as it became apparent the Coalition wouldn’t be able to form government, but there was an air of sadness as it became clear Campbell wouldn’t be a part of the new Parliament. 

“We worked really, really hard,” he tells Crikey. “We knew what we could do, and we did what we could with our resources. This was the hand of cards that we were dealt and it’s onward and upward from here.”

In Gilmore, the former NSW Liberal treasurer had pitched himself as a candidate who would work hard for his electorate — Constance even said he’d turn down a cabinet role if he won, and push for better mental health support in the region. Despite a lot of animosity for the Liberals, it appeared his message cut through. He took the seat from Labor’s Fiona Phillips. 

Nockles was not so fortunate and amid the controversy over not living in the region and frustration with the party over slow support from floods and fires, many of his signs were defaced with the word “liar”. Labor’s McBain retained the seat. 

Across Gilmore and Eden-Monaro the Greens put up a fair fight, raking in 10.4% and 4.5%, respectively — swings of 1.9%.

Despite their anonymity, One Nation candidates took nearly 5% and 2.4% in Gilmore — again, a surprising swing. There are about a dozen ghost One Nation candidates — the party scrambled to find candidates hours before nominations closed after One Nation Leader Pauline Hanson vowed to field one in each seat in the House of Representatives.