Australia’s political class has not waited until after 26 January to start engaging voters in what is shaping up as a year of elections. Four NSW state by-election contests on 12 February will provide the first real tests of the electoral mood of Australia ahead of the Federal Election expected in May. Federal campaigning is also now on in earnest with Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese’s major speech today at the National Press Club. Here’s your briefing on what’s coming up.
The NSW by-elections are crucial to the Perrottet Government’s parliamentary majority and will be held as Australia emerges from a summer of discontent over the impact and management of the Omicron variant. The Coalition will be urging voters to look forward and focus on the post-pandemic economic recovery, while Labor will promote the by-elections as an opportunity to punish the government for what they will claim are a series of public policy failures in the management of the pandemic, themes likely to be echoed in the Federal Poll.
The by-elections kick off a year of furious politicking that will also include the South Australian poll in March and the Victorian state poll in November, with a NSW election in March 2023. SEC Newgate takes this opportunity to cast an eye over what promises to be one of the most highly charged political years in recent times.
This is Premier Dominic Perrottet’s first big test against the recently appointed Opposition Leader Chris Minns amid the impact of the Omicron variant and after two tough years of pandemic. The by-elections have resulted from several high-profile retirements last year.
NSW is already technically in minority government with two Liberals members on the crossbench while they are being investigated on separate issues. Even if all three Coalition seats were to fall to Labor, the crossbench members would likely support the current administration. Losing a seat would however be destabilising and give Labor crucial momentum.
Willoughby (Liberal) 21.0% margin – vacated by former Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, is considered a safe Liberal seat and not at threat.
Monaro (Nationals) 11.6% – vacated by former Nationals Leader, John Barilaro, it could be a tough seat for the Nationals to retain. The high margin is believed to be the result of Barilaro’s hard work and high profile as a local member.
Bega (Liberal) 6.9% margin – vacated by Transport Minister, Andrew Constance, this electorate was ravished by the 2019/20 bushfires and the mood on the ground at the time was that the Commonwealth and NSW governments didn’t provide support quick enough. This seat will be tightly contested and could come down to preference flows if there is a strong independent in the race.
Strathfield (Labor) 5.0% margin – vacated by former Opposition Leader, Jodie McKay, the seat is in play and it will be crucial for Labor to retain it as both sides hunt for the multicultural vote. Labor has selected highly regarded second-generation Chinese-Australian, Jason Yat-sen Li, who they believe will help them with the multicultural vote. The Liberals believe they have a real chance having selected the mother of one of the victims of the 2020 Oatlands car crash, Bridget Sakr, who also has excellent connections with multicultural groups.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese used his first major election year speech today to outline his vision for Australia, fresh from campaigning in the Coalition stronghold of Queensland where Labor has taken a big policy u-turn to embrace the coal industry in regional seats they need to win. The alternative Prime Minister said he would learn from the ‘lessons of the moment’ to build a stronger more inclusive Australia out of the pandemic, outlining a list of key priorities including a strong public health system with Medicare as its backbone, addressing insecure work, investing in TAFE to fill skills gaps, more manufacturing in Australia, the National Broadband Network and affordable childcare. Amid increasing pressure on the Morrison Government ahead of the return to school, Mr Albanese also announced the Labor Party’s $440 million pledge to help schools ‘bounce back’ from the pandemic. The plan covers funding for better ventilation in schools, building upgrades, and mental health support for children.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison will return fire when he addresses the National Press Club next Tuesday 1 February. The politics of Omicron is driving the Prime Minister’s agenda to push through the eye of the storm of the Omicron virus and in the hope he’ll have clear air in a few months to focus on economic recovery – hence the odds of a May election have firmed.
All eyes will be on when the pandemic peaks as case numbers start falling, taking the pressure off the health system. Even in the past few days, sentiment seems to be shifting with talk of the peak being reached. This remains a highly unpredictable issue affecting the political environment.
If the pandemic continues to rage, that could affect campaigning in the Federal Election and a greater reliance on postal votes. Postal votes tend to be lodged early, which will have an impact on when big announcements are made because both parties cannot afford to hold until the eve of the election. There will be little time to repair election blunders so there will be an increased focus on the party leaders.
For business, the current state of play means a volatile political environment at state and national levels. It will be important to ensure businesses engage with both sides of politics ahead of the polls. Businesses need to be tracking any emerging issues during the campaign. SEC Newgate’s expert teams can offer unique insights into the policies the parties will take to the election and the likely policy impacts on your business post-election.
If you’d like to learn more, please contact Jeremy Vine at [email protected]