The NSW election campaign, much like last year’s federal election, is shaping up as a policy-free zone, and this is s concern. It is a concern that the state opposition, having had at least three years to plan for this campaign – an almost sure bet that they will win office – have been unable to come up with anything more concrete than offering to provide stable government, plus a few token offers to raise the speed limit and keep schools open after hours, a move sure to impress the legions of police and teachers. It is a concern that the Premier-in-waiting looks genuinely puzzled when asked to explain how his yet-to-be-elected government will address various specific policy matters. It is a concern that he lapses into weasel words, ducks the question and offers to provide stable government. Yes, we heard that bit, Barry, but what about the transport system? The hospital waiting lists? The outer-Sydney urban sprawl?
For her part, the Premier refuses to appear daunted by the spectre of impending doom. Far from looking like the puppet of the Tripodi-Obeid powerbrokers, as was suggested when she ousted Nathan Rees, she is holding her ground, leading from the front and insisting that a new Keneally government would be a new government entirely with no nasty Klingons hanging around from the previous one. The power sale debacle, the Sydney transport fiasco and all those shonky development approvals are apparently a thing of the past and we should move forward, but still no actual policy statements on how this new government will rise, Phoenix-like, from the ashes of the 23 retiring members and start anew. The live audience at the leaders’ debate last week gave the event to Keneally by about 65% to O’Farrell’s 35%. But unfortunately for the Premier, her personal style and popularity is not going to be enough to convince voters to re-elect her government.
So we have a government that is past its use-by date led by a smart, savvy and personable Premier, and an opposition which, far from looking like a fresh, new team about to form a government, is looking stodgy and uninspired. This is not a reflection on Barry O’Farrell, by all accounts a decent bloke and hard-working politician, who is looking far more an alternative Premier than his successors have done at the last couple of campaigns, but where we might expect a bit of passion and enthusiasm, we are getting, well, stodge. Perhaps passion and enthusiasm are not Barry’s thing. It is of concern, though, that the opposition is looking as tired and flat as the government they seek to – and most likely will – replace.
So, what choices are NSW voters left with? A dysfunctional government, a stodgy opposition, the Greens coming up the inside lane, and no doubt a few independents, including six incumbents, who will be making their runs in mostly rural and regional seats. This might be where it gets interesting. In a previous blog post I mentioned that the Greens and independents might play a role in determining the result and I still believe that this could be the case. The optional preferential voting system for state elections in NSW means that neither of the major parties can rely on a flow of preferences from the minor parties, and I believe that in this election there will be greater numbers of people exhausting their preferences after voting 1 for a minor candidate. This will make the result in a lot of electorates more difficult to predict on the basis of preference flows from last election. O’Farrell may find himself negotiating with a disparate crossbench in order to form a government.
I just hope he is better able to negotiate than his federal Liberal counterparts, who, having failed to negotiate support from the independents after the election, have now resorted to playground bully tactics. Barry would be better advised to look elsewhere but to Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott for role models in crossbench diplomacy.