This will be my last column before the state election, due to be held on March 23, and between now and then it will be an anxious time for Premier Berejiklian and her Coalition team.
It’s been more than 50 years since a Coalition government in NSW ran to a third term, and with a margin of only six seats, and plenty of reasons for voters to dump this government, it could be a tight finish.
Probably no single issue has alienated city voters more than the disastrous South East Light Rail project, which commenced ripping up George Street and other major retail boulevards in 2015 and still looks years away from completion.
This is a problem very much down to the Premier, who was transport minister at the time the contracts for this ill-conceived project were let to an unsuspecting Spanish construction firm.
But also on Gladys’s watch has been the hare-brained proposal to spend $2 billion rebuilding and upgrading Sydney sports stadiums, at a time when the state arguably has far more pressing budgetary priorities.
Nor is anti-Government sentiment confined to the Big Smoke. Voters in regional and rural areas won’t be forgetting the forced shire amalgamations, or former Premier Mike Baird’s “light-bulb-moment” proposal to ban greyhound racing.
Environmental issues will also loom large in many voters’ considerations, especially in light of the recent coverage of fish kills at Menindee and elsewhere, and regulatory failings in regard to up-river water diversions.
The Government can’t be blamed for the drought, but history tells us that drought has a habit of cultivating among trouble-worn voters a mood for change. If they can’t change the weather, they can at least change the government!
Remember how Bob Hawke swept to power in Canberra at a time of widespread drought in 1983, ending the Coalition’s eight years in office, only for the heavens to open not long afterwards.
Not that a change of government in Macquarie Street would necessarily augur well for the bush. Michael Daley’s Labor platform is mostly about more money for schools and hospitals, and generally looking after Labor’s core public service constituency.
Unlike the Liberal Party, Labor doesn’t have a rump of Nats holding it to account and insisting on a fair slice of the spending action for rural and regional areas (even if much of it should have come sooner).
Worthy elements of the Nats’ election platform include road upgrades, new telecom towers, a $1.4 billion commitment to improving inland water security, and the Farm Innovation Fund enabling low-interest loans for drought mitigation projects.
But right now, probably even the most rusted-on Coalition supporter in the bush would welcome a Labor win if it resulted in a replay of Bob Hawke’s drought-breaking “miracle”!
- Peter Austin