Two items to relate from New South Wales: tomorrow’s by-election in Upper Hunter and the first results from Resolve Strategic’s new state polling series, which the Sydney Morning Herald sneaked out on Wednesday without me noticing.
To start with the former, the by-election was initiated after the resignation of Nationals member Michael Johnsen, whose demise you can read all about in my by-election guide. Naturally, this site will be all over the count tomorrow night and beyond — my live results facility is ready to go and can be viewed here (if the format looks screwy at first, try a hard refresh). As you can see, this will feature neat displays of vote totals, booth results and swings, projections and, in an exciting new-ish feature, a map-based display of booth results at the bottom of the page.
The by-election event is fraught with significance for a number of reasons:
• The Nationals retained the seat at the March 2019 election by a margin of 2.6%, well within the range of a typical mid-term by-election swing. However, the clear pattern of strong electoral performances for incumbents since the onset of COVID-19 suggests the hurdle will be quite a bit harder to clear than the margin applies. This is awkward for Labor leader Jodi McKay, who is struggling with weak poll ratings and poor name recognition (more on that below).
• The parliamentary majority of the Berejiklian government is on the line — or at least it was until last Thursday, when Gareth Ward’s move to the cross bench ensured the government’s minority status come what may tomorrow, at least for the time being. The Coalition cleared the hurdle by two seats at the March 2019 election, winning 48 out of 93 seats, but one of these was lost when John Sidoti, the Liberal member for Drummoyne, moved to the cross bench in March pending an ICAC inquiry into his property dealings.
• As noted, the government is down another number owing to sexual violence allegations against Gareth Ward, who holds the seat of Kiama for the Liberals on a margin of 12.0%. The Sydney Morning Herald reports the Liberals are waiting on tomorrow’s result before “counselling” Ward about his future, the upshot of which may be another by-election.
• The Hunter region and its distinctive local economic and political concerns rose to the surface of national politics this week after the Morrison government announced it would bankroll a gas-fired power plant in Kurri Kurri as part of a $600 million play for the corresponding federal seat of Hunter, where Labor member Joel Fitzgibbon’s margin was sliced from 12.5% to 3.0% at the 2019 election, with One Nation securing 21.6% of the vote.
Monday’s Daily Telegraph had a YouGov poll of 400 respondents conducted last Tuesday to Thursday which, notwithstanding its small sample and wide error margin, pointed to a highly complicated contest arising from a field of 13 candidates. The primary vote numbers were Nationals 25% (34.0% at the 2019 election), Labor 23% (28.7%), Shooters Fishers and Farmers 16% (22.0%), One Nation 11% (did not contest), the Greens 6% (4.8%) and independent Kirsty O’Connell on 6%, despite the latter having received endorsement and $3000 in campaign funding from Malcolm Turnbull, who owns a farming property in the electorate. This panned out to a 51-49 lead for the Nationals over Labor on two-party preferred, although the primary vote numbers suggest it’s far from clear which two candidates will make the final count.
On to the Resolve Strategic poll in the Sydney Morning Herald, which had the Coalition on 44% of the primary vote (41.6% at the last election), Labor on 28% (33.3%), the Greens on 12% (9.6%), Shooters on 4% (3.5%), and independents and others 12% (12.0%). As with the federal polling from this series, no two-party preferred is provided, but it can be conservatively estimated that this would amount to a 4% swing to the Coalition, which won the election with a fairly handy break of 52.0-48.0. Gladys Berejiklian was credited with a commanding 57-17 lead over Jodi McKay as preferred premier.
The Sydney Morning Herald report says the poll was conducted from “1228 voters between mid-April and May”. I believe the deal here is that it combined responses from the surveys that have produced the pollster’s first two monthly results, which have been conducted mostly online, with a small cohort of phone polling add to the April survey.