After 12 years in power, The Liberal-National Coalition are seeking a fourth term in government, facing off against favoured challengers, The Labor Party.
Chris Minns, the newly appointed leader of Labor, hopes to return the party to power at the March 25 state election, and oust Premier Dominic Perrottet after less than a year-and-a-half in the top job.
Labor has won a series of victories at state and federal levels over the past three years, forming majority governments in Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria. The Coalition now holds government in two – New South Wales and Tasmania – of Australia’s eight states and territories.
To form majority government in New South Wales, a single party or coalition needs to win 47 of the 93 available seats in the Legislative Assembly. The Coalition, in minority government, will defend their position with their current 45 seats, and aims to gain a majority. The Labor Party holds 38 seats, giving them a harder task to take back Macquarie Street for the first time in over a decade.
Since Barry O’Farrell’s landslide victory for the Coalition in 2011, the gap between the two major parties has been narrowing, and this may be the year that government finally changes hands.
With 93 seats at stake, here are a few of the key electoral districts to keep an eye out for on election night:
A seat is seen as marginal when held with a two-party-preferred margin of less than six per cent. There are approximately 19 seats out of the total 93 that can be defined as marginal. Four of these seats are held with a margin of less than one per cent.
Both Kogarah, in South-Sydney and East Hills, in South-West Sydney are being contested with a margin of 0.1 per cent. Kogarah is held by Labor Leader Chris Minns, and will likely see a boost in his vote based on recent polling and his name-recognition as leader of the party. East Hills is held by Liberal member Wendy Lindsay. The seat was won on a margin of one per cent, but a recent redistribution has pushed the expected two-party-preferred vote to a more marginal position.
Upper Hunter, just inland from Newcastle and occupying the country towns of Singleton and Scone, has also faced redistribution. Won by the Nationals member David Layzell on a margin of 2.6 per cent at a 2021 by-election, redistribution has resulted in this seat dropping to a 0.5 per cent margin.
The final seat held with a margin below one per cent is the Western-Sydney seat of Penrith. Held by embattled Liberal member Stuart Ayres, the seat sits at a margin of 0.6 per cent. Ayres was infamously dragged into the ‘jobs-for-the-boys’ scandal regarding John Barilaro’s appointment to a trade position in New York. Ayres has maintained his innocence throughout the saga, but the damaging effect of his alleged involvement has yet to be tested at an election.
Further seats including Lismore, Coogee, Heathcote and the newly created Leppington, all sit at under two per cent margins. All are held by, or in the case of Leppington, would be held by Labor, excluding Heathcote, which is currently held by Liberal member Lee Evans. Evans maintained Heathcote at the last election on a five per cent margin. Heathcote subsequently underwent redistribution leading to the seat now being graded as a 1.7 per cent marginal-Labor seat.
The Independent Challengers
During the 2022 Federal Election, independent candidates, specifically those labelled as ‘teal’ were the source of a significant amount of attention. On election night, 11 independents won their contests, many unseating Liberal candidates in traditional heartland seats. During the recent Victorian state election, despite multiple independent and ‘teal’ candidates running, none were successful in claiming a seat. Whether there has been a tactical change from independent campaign managers and major backer Climate 200 to combat the learnings from the Victorian election is yet to be seen.
It should be noted that many ‘teal’ candidates were successful in the 2022 Federal Election thanks to preference flows. New South Wales does not enforce mandatory preferential voting in state elections, meaning that there is a reduced likelihood of preference flows to independent candidates.
In the upcoming New South Wales election, many prominent Independent and ‘teal’ candidates are running.
Willoughby, on Sydney’s North Shore, and Wollondilly in the Southern Highlands are the seats with the smallest hurdles for their independent candidates to overcome.
Willoughby is held by Liberal MP Tim James, who won his seat at a 2022 by-election after the resignation of former Premier Gladys Berejiklian. James won Willoughby with a margin of 3.3 per cent against independent challenger Larissa Penn. Penn will re-contest the election after she managed to co-ordinate a 13.5 per cent swing against James at the by-election. It is possible that results from the 2022 by-election were a reflection of anger towards Berejiklian after she was forced to resign due to an investigation into her by the ICAC.
Wollondilly is held on a six per cent margin by the Liberal member Nathaniel Smith. Smith was first elected in 2019 and faced competition from independent Judy Hannan. Both candidates are standing for the 2023 election.
Other potential gains for independents would most likely be in the seats of North Shore, Manly, Lane Cove, Pittwater, Wakehurst and Vaucluse. These seats all sit within federal electorates that fell to ‘teal’ independents Kylea Tink, Zali Stegall, Sophie Scamps and Allegra Spender.
The Wild Cards
There are of course some electoral districts that are neither marginal nor being challenged by an independent that are at risk of changing hands this March.
The first such seat is Drummoyne. Won by Liberal member John Sidoti at the 2019 election on a margin of 13.6 per cent, Sidoti was forced to resign from the Liberal party after allegations – later confirmed by ICAC – that he had demonstrated corrupt conduct in the promotion of deals that benefitted his family’s property portfolio. Sidoti announced earlier this year that he would not contest the election. Liberal candidate Stephanie Di Pasqua will face Labor candidate Julia Little for the seat. Both candidates sit as councillors on the City of Canada Bay Council. In the last election, the federal seat of Reid, in which Drummoyne sits, switched from Liberal to Labor.
The second such seat, Kiama, was won at the last election on a margin of 12 per cent by Liberal member Gareth Ward. Since 2019, allegations have been made against Ward by the police, suggesting that the member historically sexually assaulted two men. Ward was suspended from Parliament and while allegations of his crimes are passing through the court, he will contest the election as an independent. Melanie Gibbons was picked hours before nominations closed to challenge Ward on behalf of the Liberal Party.
Finally, the seat of Port Macquarie holds the first contest between a Nationals and Liberal candidate since 1999. During the ‘koala crisis’ in which former Deputy Premier John Barilaro almost split the Coalition, Nationals member Leslie Williams left the party and joined the Liberals. Williams has decided to contest the seat once again on behalf of her new party. The seat was won on a 20.1 per cent margin to the Nationals at the last election. Nationals candidate Peta Pinson will contest to win back the seat for the junior Coalition partner.