New South Wales by-elections minus six days

Dominic Perrottet’s first electoral test looms, with concerns in the Liberal Party that the Bega result may send the government deeper into minority.

Entering the final week of the campaign for New South Wales’ Super Saturday, consisting of four by-elections for which the rough order of interest seems to be Bega, Strathfield, Monaro and Willoughby, the latter being forfeited by Labor. The preceding links take you to my election guide pages, where you will also find live reporting of the results complete with booth results and swings and a mapping feature come Saturday. However, projecting the results will be made highly fraught by the fact that every enrolled voter will be sent a postal vote ballot without having to register, which will presumably lead to a collapse in election day turnout. This has been felt necessary as the NSW Electoral Commission has advised against use of the iVote electronic voting system after failures at the local government elections in December.

To summarise the situations in turn:

Bega. Call it expectations management if you will, but a report on the Seven Network last weekend spoke of “new secret polling”, apparently for the Liberals, which showed them to be in trouble. Yoni Bashan of The Australian reports a view in the Liberal camp that Andrew Constance’s personal popularity has obscured the party’s weakening position in the seat over the past two decades:

Property prices are booming along the coastal fringes of Bega, a haven of retirement living where wealthy newcomers, mainly from capital cities, have swelled the local population, bringing a left-leaning perspective to the region’s once conservative outlook. The result has seen a gradual erosion in support for the Liberal Party over the past decade, according to political observers, who say there are growing doubts over the NSW government’s ability to retain the seat at a by-election on February 12. “The situation in Bega is that it has been getting worse for the government, progressively, over the past 20 years,” said a senior Liberal strategist. “As the population has grown, a lot of the people moving there have been people from Canberra, particularly retired public servants. They generally vote Labor.”

Monaro. The aforementioned article in The Australian notes that the Nationals have no corresponding concern about holding Monaro to match those held by the Liberals in Bega.

Strathfield. The Liberals are seemingly not optimistic of taking the seat being vacated by former Labor leader Jodi McKay, although there is some concern in the Labor camp that independent Elizabeth Farrelly will take a bite out of their vote and fail to return it as preferences, with her how-to-vote card recommending an exhausted vote.

Willoughby. Nothing came of suggestions that Liberal candidate Tim James might face an independent challenge from one of the women he defeated for preselection, with his best-credentialled opponent looking to be Penny Hackett, president of Dying With Dignity NSW, who is running for the Reason NSW party.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

14 comments on “New South Wales by-elections minus six days”

  1. Tim David has his face plastered all over the key spots in High Street and Willoughby Road and people handing out material there and in Castlecrag.

    My neighbour Penny Hackett cannot compete with that.

  2. shellbell

    what makes you think that more publicity for Tim James (not David) is a good thing for the Liberals?

    I live in your aforementioned High street and I’ve never heard of Penny Hackett, so she might be “well-credentialed” but not likely to come 2nd. I have heard of Larissa Penn and she has a decent profile around the southern end of the electorate – and got 10% in the last state election, which is not easy for a local IND against St. Gladys – and Lyn Saville, the Greens candidate has just retired from Council and is the North Sydney Federal candidate. If they are not fighting it out for 2nd I will eat my hat. Will be interesting to see what the preference flow is between them, even if the HTV’s don’t recommend much

  3. As a Cooma resident it seems to me that Labor have been running dead in Monaro. Which is a real shame because the ALP candidate seems decent enough and after all the scandals surrounding John Barilaro you’d think they’d have a chance.

    It wasn’t too long ago that it was a Labor seat. I guess Labor is pouring all their limited resources in Bega.

  4. Re barney at 10.20 am and Shellbell at 11.52 am

    It is not extraordinary because they were different elections and impressionistic perceptions of local candidates matter. Some of Barilaro’s ads in 2019 did not mention his Nationals link. The irony is that a portion of the swinging voters whom he fooled will not transfer to Overall. The Nats placard uses the same old slogan of “a safer, stronger future”. It may not resonate given Covid mismanagement.

    The result in Monaro depends a lot on Queanbeyan, which is why the Nats chose the former mayor’s wife as their candidate. In 2015 Labor won most Queanbeyan booths plus the small booths of Majors Creek, Wamboin and Captains Flat. At the 2020 Eden-Monaro by-election Labor won all the election day booths in Queanbeyan but suffered a swing in almost all booths and just loss the pre-poll there.

    Winning in Queanbeyan is why Labor has historically done better in Monaro than Bega. There are probably proportionately a lot more swinging voters in Queanbeyan than around Cooma, which is more conservative. Mike Kelly won the two large Cooma booths in 2007 with swings of 7 to 8%, but Labor now needs a similar swing to win Cooma federally in Eden-Monaro.

    Both reasons that Mackerras gives for predicting a Liberal win in Bega are dubious. Yes, his second reason about the public reputation of Perrottet being better than ProMo is laughable. The issue is not who is worst but how bad both have been in mismanaging the current pandemic response. Everybody knows that the Covid chaos became much worse in NSW soon after Perrottet became Premier.

    But the first reason he gives is superficial, like clutching at a straw when he has nothing better to say about the prospects for the Libs to hold Bega. Kotvojs is well known only in the southern half of the electorate, from Narooma south. Constance lives in the north of the electorate, near Bateman’s Bay. Michael Holland, the Labor candidate, will be better known and respected there and in Moruya than Kotvojs. The other local factor is that Holland may benefit from the strong swings that Kristy McBain got around Merimbula (7% +) in the 2020 by-election, when Kotvojs was the Liberal candidate who did much better in Queanbeyan than in the areas of the Bega electorate that she is now contesting.

  5. These elections are obviously important for Perrottet, but they are pretty important for Minns too! I think he’s been a pretty good upgrade on Jodi Mackay in terms of media performance, and how he’s played the politics of Covid, but that doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t translate to votes. It’s hard to think of more favourable circumstances for the ALP than what they’ll have next Saturday. So what’s a par result for the ALP? They’d want to be getting swings of at least 5% in the 3 seats they are contesting. Even if they do that, but fall just short of winning Bega, the Libs and their media mates will portray that as a magnificent result. So winning Bega is going to be quite critical in determining the narrative out of these elections.

  6. I assume because Ucomms tried to telephone Mrs Shellbell and me last Wednesday, and weare in Willoughby, there will be a poll soon.

  7. Measure of success for Minns is that NSW Labor should win Strathfield and Bega and lose Monaro only by couple of hundred votes.

  8. Do not underestimate how ticked off the electorate in Willoughby is. Between parachuting in a far right non resident and the severe impact of the Northern Beaches tunnel they could well have a fight on their hands. In 2003 Willoughby was the most marginal seat in NSW with Gladys getting over the line by only 144 votes against an Independent.

  9. Pre-poll voting in the by-elections so far varies but overall it is not following the usual rising trend.


    Counting of postal votes will begin on Sat 19 Feb, so the result in Bega may be unclear until after then. There have already been 5 per cent of votes in Bega received as postals (the total amount of postals in 2019). Postal votes are accepted until 10 days after 12 Feb. It looks likely the total amount of postals in this by-election will exceed 10 per cent in Bega, so the likely result may not be known for over a week.

    If a significant proportion of voters in Monaro who usually do pre-poll now make a postal vote, then a similar situation may arise in Monaro, if the swing to Labor is big enough. Margin in Monaro is 11.2%

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