Can The Nationals crash through what looks like a determined regional electorate that is considering to inflict a healthy rebuke for years of what some say is "electoral neglect"?
In the city it's jackhammers at ten paces and so much tunnelling through ancient sandstone you wonder how the CBD will ever stand up. Main streets are a mess for a light rail project and it's hard to remember what new city connect project connects who with who. And there's also that little thing called a second Sydney Airport underway and a $2.2 billion spend on new Sydney stadiums. Wasting no time, and it's no London Bridge, Allianz Stadium is already coming down (see pic).
Interestingly, Moree mayor Katrina Humphries backed the stadium spend. Mrs Humphries is the daughter of former Barwon member and NSW National Party leader Wal Murray, a huge no compromise figure publically and in person in Moree. Mrs Humphries said: "the issues for the regions going into this election are health, education, water, roads and native vegetation. I understand why NSW wants good stadiums, Melbourne is tough to compete against, we have to start somewhere."
Meanwhile, in the regions it's like projects have hit bull dust. No one can agree on an inland rail route, a gas pipeline is proposed through prime western farmland and no one knows if the Pilliga gas project will go ahead, miners, farmers, environmentalists and irrigators fight over water on top and below the ground. Many rivers have run dry and water bottles are needed to keep some remote communities going. The drought hangs on everyone like a heavy yoke and if there's no break by Anzac Day it'll be D-Day for many farmers who haven't sown a crop for two years, especially those big broadacre farmers around Moree. The cost of feed grain and hay is sky high and any $20,000 freight subsidy was quickly gobbled up.
The flow on to regional communities is immense with many businesses already suffering under high power costs and ruing the day poles and wires were privatised if there was no benefit to regional NSW.
For sure hearts have been opened in the city for the bush, and wallets too, but how far will billions of dollars promised get The Nationals with a resentful electorate, an electorate that feels big interests come before theirs'.
The NSW 2019 election could be the defining moment for The Nationals as it confronts this backlash.
The Nationals look certain to lose at least two to three seats and the casualty list might grow on the North Coast. The Liberals alone are being run out of their few holds in regional NSW, with Wagga Wagga, already held by Independent Joe McGirr, looking to stay in his hands (the Nats concede this), and Goulburn now on a knife-edge with the departure of high-profile Liberal Pru Goward and Labor now stealing resources from outside Goulburn to throw into the Goulburn battle. Labor could also take Upper Hunter. (Sportsbet has Labor ahead of Nationals in Upper Hunter). The good news for The Nationals is that their leader John Barilaro won't be conceding his electorate of Monaro anytime soon.
Add a few more seats lost in the city as expected , then the Coalition is looking at minority government at best and a loss to Labor if that count rises above nine. At the moment polls have Labor and The Coalition neck and neck, and that gives the Coalition hope it can stem the tide. The battles will be local and unpredictable and a result might not be know for a week after the election date. Then the wheeling and dealing will take place.
The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party is licking its lips that it may hold the balance of power in the Lower House, if as expected it holds on to Orange, and takes Barwon. This week the Party leader Rob Borsak said this was payback time for a rural electorate that had felt ignored.
"Yes, we are confident we can win Barwon, but think it will be extremely close. Our candidate Roy Butler will share the balance of power if he wins," he told The Land.
He said in the "past week, the NSW Premier has shamelessly used the Christchurch terror attack to win Barwon for the Nationals. She's telling people the lie we want to give 10-year-old guns, even though we fully support the existing age restrictions on guns.
"But her scare campaign won't work. It's not 10-year-olds with guns that Barwon people are worried about.
"They're worried about 10-year-olds not being able to drink safe tap water because of NSW Government water mismanagement. They're worried about 10-year-olds having to travel four hours to a hospital because the Nationals slashed health services in small towns. They'll vote against the Nationals because of the neglect and arrogance of the Nationals over the past 69 years."
Shooters say they will not do any deals to form a Labor/Coalition government.
They'll vote against the Nationals because of the neglect and arrogance of the Nationals over the past 69 years.
NSW Nationals director Ross Cadell said it would be a sad day if Shooters held the balance of power and if the Nationals were rejected "for something worse".
Mr Cadell said he understood there was a backlash, but said voters needed to carefully think how their vote will put farmers in an even worse position than they are at the moment in the drought. He remained hopeful the Coalition would hang on. There was a plethora of different contests in each electorate, with The Nationals fighting Greens, Shooters, Labor and even an ex-sitting member in different battles.
The Nationals were facing a tough task in Barwon as the Shooters put most of its campaign money into trying to win the seat, while the Nationals had to spread theirs over the entire state.
"Our policy is to complete the job we've already started."
Country Labor New England candidate Deb O'Brien, who hails from a Moree farming background, says the new Nationals are not like the old country party. "They would never have agreed to privatise poles and wires because they know privatisation of services always hurts people more in the country. That's something more you'd think a Labor party would do. There's a feeling the Nationals have been bought out by the Liberals."