Balance of power could fall into the hands of Independents

6th March 2018

Source: The Australian | By: Andrew Clenell | Posted: March 6, 2018

Gladys Berejiklian’s Coalition government has surrendered its lead over Labor a year out from a state election, raising the serious risk of a hung parliament, as voters continue to drift to minor parties and dissatisfaction with the NSW Premier’s performance rises.

A Newspoll, conducted exclusively for The Australian, finds the Liberal-Nationals Coalition deadlocked with Labor in twoparty-preferred terms, compared with the 51-49 lead the government held in the previous poll a year ago.

The Coalition’s primary vote fell two points to 38 per cent in the past 12 months, while Labor has remained steady on 34 per cent compared with the previous Newspoll taken shortly after Mike Baird’s resignation and Ms Berejiklian taking over.

Based on the latest Newspoll, Ms Berejiklian’s government has suffered a 4.3 per cent swing on a two-party-preferred basis since the March 2015 victory of Mr Baird. The government’s primary vote has dropped 7.6 per cent from the 2015 election result — all of that moving to minor parties.

The vote for minor parties has risen two points to 28 per cent as the major parties have been unable to claw back support. The Greens are on 11 per cent, up one percentage point, One Nation is on 8 per cent (unchanged) and others (which include the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, Christian Democrats and Australian Cnservatives) are on 9 per cent, up one.

Ms Berejiklian’s dissatisfaction rating has grown from a year ago, up from 21 to 35 per cent, but she is still in positive territory, with her satisfaction rating at 45 per cent.

The poll result will put pressure on the Premier for a partial windback of her controversial decision to spend $2.7 billion on stadiums, a policy the opposition has successfully targeted. It will also put pressure on the Premier to do a better sales job of the government’s achievements than she has managed in her one year in the job. The result may even be used by some of the Premier’s ministers to argue for a pre-election reshuffle of her cabinet.

Opposition Leader Luke Foley’s satisfaction rating is at 37 per cent (up five) with dissatisfaction at 35 per cent (down one) and 28 per cent uncommitted, marking the first time his net satisfaction rating is positive.

On the question of who is the better premier, Ms Berejiklian had 43 per cent support (unchanged) and Mr Foley 25 per cent (up four) with 32 per cent uncommitted.

The survey was based on 1526 interviews with voters conducted over the past month.

A uniform swing against the government of 4.3 per cent since the 2015 election would cost the Coalition six seats — leaving it in power by just one seat, with 47 votes in the 93-seat Legislative Assembly. But such swings are typically not uniform and, with an optional preferential system in NSW, the decline in primary vote points to a likely minority government for either side.

In NSW, the Coalition tends to have to win more of the two partypreferred vote than 50 per cent to win a majority because so much of its vote is locked up in safe seats representing the one million people in the north shore of Sydney.

In 1991, the Coalition won 52.7 per cent of the vote but only won a one-seat majority. In 1995, the Coalition won 51.2 per cent of the vote but John Fahey lost the election to Bob Carr.

If the poll swing identified in the latest Newspoll were uniform at an election, Deputy Premier John Barilaro would lose his seat of Monaro, with other losses in Upper Hunter, East Hills, Coogee, Tweed and East Hills.

The government hopes it can win Orange back off Shooters MP Phil Donato and both Labor and the Coalition fancy their chances of taking Ballina from the Greens.

The Australian has been told by both Liberal and Labor sources that the seat of Penrith, held by Sports Minister Stuart Ayres, which is the next seat off the rank at 6.2 per cent, is expected to fall to Labor. That would leaves other seats such as Goulburn, Oatley, Holsworth and Heathcote — all held with margins of less than 8 per cent — in play.

If the poll result is repeated on election day, two Greens and two independents could hold the balance of power, with the government having the option of making Lake Macquarie independent MP Greg Piper Speaker and hoping Sydney independent MP Alex Greenwich sides with the Coalition to create a majority.

The poll result comes after a difficult couple of months for the government, which have involved continuing controversy over the government’s stadiums spending; a train strike, controversy over the naming of a ferry “Ferry McFerryface” by Transport Minister Andrew Constance and the botched rollout of a cash-for-cans scheme by Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton.

Ms Berejiklian’s satisfaction rating is up one point from February last year but up 10 points from the rating for Mr Baird in November 2016, when a record Orange by-election loss devastated the government following Mr Baird’s botched greyhound racing ban.

Mr Baird’s rating had dived by more than 20 points. This poll was also taken during the Barnaby Joyce scandal.

There had been faint hopes within the NSW Coalition that the federal government would hold its election later this year — before the state poll.

This would guard against any anti-federal Coalition backlash at the state election and help Ms Berejiklian’s prospects. But continuing chaos in Canberra has the Premier believing hers will be the first election.

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