With the Wagga Wagga by-election still too close to call, the NSW Coalition is in damage control after a 30 per cent swing against the Liberal Party in what has been a safe Liberal rural seat for almost 60 years.
Independent Dr Joe McGirr seems set to take the seat, but the distribution of preferences will not occur until Thursday this week after the top three candidates, Dr McGirr, Julia Ham (Liberal), and Dan Hayes (Labor), polled similar primary votes, (Ham 24.6 per cent, McGirr 24.5pc and Hayes 22.9pc as of 11am Monday), and all three still have a live chance.
If anything, the distribution of preferences could favour Labor, with the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party’s Seb McDonagh getting just under 10 per cent of the vote, and his party in a shock move has preferenced Labor. The ABC’s election analyst Antony Green has already called the Wagga result for Dr McGirr, but the later count is favouring the Liberal Party with postal votes.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian admitted on Sunday the NSW Government had to do better and the Coalition would have to “work its guts out” to re-earn the trust of the electorate and fend off a rout at the next state election in March.
Her government took "full responsibility" for the result and would "double down" and "work their guts out" to restore that trust, she said.
"It will be difficult for us, there is no doubt," she said. If the trend continued, the Nationals leader John Barilaro would more than likely lose his marginal seat of Monaro.
Mr Barilaro went on the attack yesterday telling his Coalition colleagues to “get out of wearing $700 suits” and “get real”. He told the Coalition female MPs to “start wearing jeans”.
But leading contender to take the seat, Dr Joe McGirr, a Wagga Wagga medical professional, said the Coalition would have to “do a lot more than start wearing jeans” to get back in favour with the electorate.
“My advice, and I’m not really in the position to tell them, but I would say it is important to have strong active party branches engaged with the community,” Dr McGirr said.
Dr McGirr told The Land last week that the Liberals’ top down campaign from Sydney in Wagga had hurt its local standing, and the electorate was still seething from the Baird Government’s decision to amalgamate councils.
He vowed he would stay an independent if he won the seat – despite getting support from Liberals and even the wife of the Nationals local Wagga Upper House member Wes Fang.
Dr McGirr said Natalie Fang was a long-time medical associate of his and supported his campaign. Labor had tried to make something of the connection posting a picture of Mrs Fang with Dr McGirr.
“I had Liberals, members of the National party and even Labor people handing out my material,” Dr McGirr said.
In reaction to the news, Mr Fang said his wife had a right to support any person or party she wanted.
“Just to be clear... my wife was at prepoll to vote! Apparently having a chat with a candidate is photo worthy?,” he said on twitter.
“If anyone thinks I’d tell my wife what to do... they don’t know me.”
“If anyone thinks my wife would do what I told her... they don’t know my wife!”
The NSW Electoral Commission said it was not expecting to announce a result after the distribution of preferences until Thursday.