What lessons can the federal parties take away from the NSW election?

The federal government has been buoyed by the Coalition's win in NSW but is Prime Minister Scott Morrison's confidence about replicating the result in May misplaced?

The federal government will take some heart from the Coalition's win in the NSW election on Saturday, but there are also alarm bells - particularly for the Nationals.  

For both the winners and the losers there are key lessons about what's on the minds of voters  and campaign tactics to be learnt ahead of the May federal election.


The Liberal Party

The win is a much needed confidence boost for the federal Liberal Party as it gears up for an election  

Party strategists will no doubt have observed the state Liberals' strategy to make it a battle of leadership, targeting Labor Leader Michael Daley, who only took over the helm four months ago. 

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian celebrates her win on Saturday night.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian celebrates her win with Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Source: AAP

"It’s clear that leadership and character of leadership was an issue that certainly the Coalition focused on,"  Assistant Vice-Chancellor at Western Sydney University Dr Andy Marks told SBS News on Monday.  

But Dr Marks points out that the NSW Coalition's narrow victory margin, despite an $80 billion infrastructure budget and a relatively strong economy will not be reassuring for the federal party.  

The biggest problem for the Liberals is the poor performance of its Coalition partners, the Nationals. 

"It’s very likely indeed that the government will look at what happened in New South Wales and try to direct as much attention to the regions policy and funding wise," Dr Marks said.

A massive regional funding package is reportedly being finalised, but at this late stage, it may be too little, too late.   

The Nationals

Suffering double digit swings against them in central NSW seats, The Nationals are in damage control.

“They were strong in some coastal areas but abysmal in the central west so that shows you voters quite astutely are voting on regional issues given what’s been going on in rural Australia,” Dr Marks said. 

Gladys Berejiklian and Nationals leader John Barilaro at a hay farm.
NSW Nationals Leader and Deputy Premier John Barilaro, pictured with Gladys Berejiklian, says he's disappointed with Nationals loss. Source: AAP

Former federal leader Barnaby Joyce told Channel 7 on election night the result was a warning to the Coalition not to ignore regional voters. 

"You better wake up and understand that the political scope of Australia is vastly different from what we've been reporting on, and if you don't recognise it, votes move," Mr Joyce said. 

Fury about government policies, particularly on water management in drought times, combined with internal disputes, saw them bleed votes to the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party. 

"The bigger problem for the Nationals is that the perception from voters was that the Nationals has lost with those issues due to the influence of internal matters."

Labor Party

Much of the blame for Labor's less than impressive result on Saturday is being heaped on NSW Labor Leader Michael Daley's poor performance.

And that will suit his federal colleagues. 

In a horror final week of the campaign, Mr Daley struggled to recall key policy details during a debate against the Premier and a video emerged where he said "Asians with PhDs" were taking "our kids''" jobs. 

NSW Labor leader Michael Daley had a horror week in the final week of the campaign.
NSW Labor leader Michael Daley had a horror week in the final week of the campaign. Source: AAP

While Bill Shorten has been opposition leader for long enough to avoid making similar mistakes, it's a timely reminder of how things can quickly derail on the campaign trail. 

“Shorten will have rehearsed those numbers around his costings and he would know them backwards so I don’t think he’s going to fall into that trap," Dr Marks said. 

Dr Marks said the negative reaction to Mr Daley's comments about Asian migration was a reminder to all politicians that Australians demand more respect.

"The message from the state election is that politicians like anyone else need to speak respectfully and decently about all people. Daley’s comments were abhorrent and they were picked up in in certain electorates."

A Labor supporter at the end of a disappointing night for the party in NSW.
A Labor supporter at the end of a disappointing night for the party in NSW. Source: AAP

Minor parties and independents

The NSW result reinforces what many political insiders and observers have known - voters are deserting major parties for minor parties and independents. 

Far-right minor parties Shooters, Fishers and Farmers and One Nation were big winners in NSW. 

Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party leader Robert Borsak campaigned on water supply issues.
Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party leader Robert Borsak campaigned on water supply issues. Source: AAP

The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers will pick up three seats off The Nationals, and they'll be hoping to carry that momentum into the federal election. 

One Nation candidate Mark Latham claimed an upper house seat, while the party increased its primary vote in several lower house seats.

"They overtook the Greens in probably four or five urban seats as the third force in politics so certainly minors and independents will feature on the federal seats," Dr Marks said. 

Independents hoping to keep or win a seat in federal government are also taking heart from the result on the weekend, with Federal Wentworth independent MP Kerryn Phelps saying it reinforces that climate change is an election issue for her constituents. 

5 min read
Published 25 March 2019 at 12:44pm
By Rosemary Bolger