Less than two weeks to go until the Upper Hunter by-election, on which hinges the parliamentary majority (though not, by any stretch, the hold on power) of Gladys Berejiklian’s government. Conversely, a bad result for Labor may put pressure on the leadership of Jodi McKay, who would appear to be struggling with low name recognition: the last poll that gauged her personal ratings, from Ipsos was back in October, had her at 22% approval and 25% disapproval, leaving fully 53% uncommitted. My guide to the by-election can be found here – it needs an update, and will get one later today.
The by-election has attracted a bloated field of 13 candidates, including five independents alongside the nominees of the Nationals, Labor, One Nation, Shooters Fishers and Farmers, the Greens, the Liberal Democrats, Animal Justice and Sustainable Australia. The Nationals preselection was won by construction engineer David Layzell ahead of Singleton mayor Sue Moore – according to Max Maddison of The Australian, both Coalition and Labor strategists believe the local branch had “missed a trick” by overlooking Moore, who had been widely expected to win.
Labor’s candidate has been carefully chosen to assuage local concerns about its commitment to coal mining: Jeff Drayton, CFMEU mining division official and former Muswellbrook deputy mayor. As an approving Daily Telegraph reports, Drayton promises to be “just as loud just as often” as federal counterpart Joel Fitzgibbon, specifically regarding “inner-city greenies telling us what to do”, a designation that “most likely” applies to his own party’s climate spokesman, Adam Searle.
Absent from the field is the Liberal Party, the seat being reserved to the Nationals under the Coalition arrangement. This has given Malcolm Turnbull, who owns a farming property in the electorate, licence to stick his oar in by endorsing Kirsty O’Connell, Aberdeen farmer and independent candidate. Turnbull’s advocacy for the local area to transition from mining was one reason the Nationals were at the forefront of the successful charge to overturn his recent appointment to the state government’s Net Zero Emissions and Clean Economy Board. Turnbull suggests Gladys Berejiklian would “privately appreciate” O’Connell being elected ahead of Layzell.
Another independent is former Dungog mayor Tracy Norman, who has entered a preference swap with O’Connell, a move that was likewise applauded by Turnbull. Both O’Connell and Norman were critical of a recent Independent Planning Commission ruling to extend operations at a coal mine near Muswellbrook, which was applauded by the Nationals, Labor, One Nation and Shooters candidates along with independents Archie Lea and Steve Reynolds.
Two items of polling have emerged, though both are now showing their age: a uComms poll for the Australia Institute that looked encouraging for the Nationals, which was covered in this post; and a poll commissioned by Shooters Fishers and Farmers, and reported on in fairly vague terms by Linda Silmalis of the Daily Telegraph, had “the Nationals at 25, Labor 21 and Shooters 18 on primaries”. The latter result was quite a bit better for its commissioning party than the former, which had Shooters on single figures.