Developments aplenty in New South Wales, starting with today’s Liberal party room vote to choose a successor to Gladys Berejiklian as party leader and Premier. This will pit red-hot favourite Dominic Perrottet, a conservative, against dark horse Rob Stokes, a moderate. However, Yoni Bashan of The Australian reports concern among Perrottet supporters that Stokes “could conceivably gather a bloc of votes by making promises for coveted cabinet positions”, despite “a pact brokered between conservative and moderate factions of the Liberal Party over the weekend to shore up Mr Perrottet as leader”. The Sydney Morning Herald reports Perrottet’s moderate backers include ubiquitous factional powerbroker Michael Photios.
A conservative leader would go against the state Liberals’ usual practice, but former adviser Peter Shmigel offers some insight into the party’s tactical thinking in the Sydney Morning Herald: Perrottet, it is argued, would win back support that is seemingly being lost in western and south-western Sydney, where many swinging voters will be receptive to his religious faith and determination to move out of lockdown, and to the fact that he “personifies economic management”. The emphasis on Sydney is further enhanced by the addition of Penrith MP Stuart Ayres to the Perrottet ticket as candidate for deputy, displacing arch-moderate Matt Kean, who it was thought wouldn’t play well there.
It seems that the new leader, whoever he might be, will face a “Super Saturday” of by-elections arising from a rash of parliamentary resignations running at three so far, with suggestions of others to follow. It is anticipated these will be held on December 4, coinciding with local government elections that have twice been delayed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This could potentially further weaken the Coalition’s position in the lower house, in which it presently governs in minority with 46 seats out of 93, political difficulties having forced two Liberals elected in 2019 to the cross bench. To start with the known knowns:
Willoughby (Liberal 21.0%): Gladys Berejiklian’s lower north shore seat has existed in name for all but one term since the end of the state’s multi-member regions experiment in 1927, being won by Labor only with Neville Wran’s once-in-a-lifetime landslide in 1978. Berejiklian’s margin over Labor in 2019 was 21.0%, though there was a 3.4% swing against her, unusually for a member at their first election as Premier. James O’Doherty of the Daily Telegraph reports “strategists” fear the seat will be lost to an as-yet-unspecified independent.
Monaro (Nationals 11.6%): The retirement of Nationals leader John Barilaro means a by-election for Monaro, which has traditionally been a marginal seat by virtue of balancing Labor-voting Queanbeyan against conservative rural and small town territory further south. Barilaro’s margin blew out by 9.1%, much of which is reckoned to be personal vote that now stands to be lost.
Bega (Liberal 6.9%): Liberal member Andrew Constance will resign from state politics to run for federal preselection in the corresponding seat of Gilmore, which Labor gained with a 3.3% swing against the trend in 2019 and holds by a margin of 2.6%.
James O’Doherty of the Daily Telegraph reports Liberal concerns that they could be shortly joined by Rob Stokes, member for Pittwater (Liberal 20.8% versus Greens), in the seemingly likely event that he is not elected leader; Melanie Gibbons, member for Holsworthy (Liberal 3.3%), who has been “touted for the federal seat of Hughes”; Health Minister Brad Hazzard, member for Wakehurst (Liberal 21.0%); and Local Government Minister Shelley Hancock, member for South Coast (Liberal 10.6%).