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Everything you wanted to know about the NSW State Election (but were too afraid to ask)

Everything you wanted to know about the NSW State Election (but were too afraid to ask)

By Bart Shteinman

So, I take it you’re interested in the upcoming New South Wales State Election.

Or possibly, you’re just swimming in Gladys memes and don’t know what is going on (#shutitdown).

But with days to go, and the polls in dead heat (50-50 for Labor and the Coalition), it’s fair for anyone to be throwing up their hands in frustration and anxiety – going off the surface of things at least. With independents, minor parties, and lakes of dead fish in play it’s easy to get lost in the murky waters of NSW state politics.

So, if you’re looking for a bit of clarity on what it will take for our state to see a change in government on March 23rd, enjoy our deep dive into the New South Wales State Election 2019. (Warning, this dive gets deeper than the Mariana Trench).

Election? What? How?

To get the boring details out of the way, the Parliament of New South Wales has fixed terms requiring an election every 4 years.

Seats in the lower house (Legislative Assembly) are elected on a single-member-district, meaning you elect your local member of parliament (MP) to parliament.

In the upper house (the legislative council) you either vote for a party list with group voting above the line on the ballot paper or numbering individual candidates below the line. Both use optional preference voting.

There are 93 seats in its Legislative Assembly, and the party/coalition that can command a majority of 47 seats (remember that number) will be invited by the governor of NSW (equivalent to governor general) after the election to form government, with the party leader taking the position of Premier (currently Gladys Berejiklian).

If neither of the two major parties succeeds in winning that many seats, then we get a hung parliament. It will be up to either of them to negotiate with the crossbench (independents or minor parties not affiliated with either of the big two) in order to form minority government.

That doesn’t guarantee they can pass their legislation, they still need a majority in both the lower and upper house. But if they get an agreement for supply and confidence it can guarantee them a full term and the ability to form government.

So, unless you live in the safe-as-pill-testing seat of Willoughby, you won’t get to directly vote Gladys out. But if the Liberal and National Party Coalition fall below 47 seats, that’s when things get interesting, or if you’re Gladys, go into DEFCON 1.

Answer: save me a seat.

Who’s running against the Coalition?

Gladys and the Coalition are fighting multiple fronts this election. Of course, the biggest threat will be from NSW Labor, led by Michael Daley, who you can be forgiven for not being familiar with – having only taken the position 4 months ago. The battle between the two big parties goes across the state but like federal politics will be won or lost in Western Sydney.   

Out in the bush on the other hand, the liberals are fighting against climate-conscious-country independents and the more conservative Shooters Fishers and Farmers (SFF) Party, who between them already have taken two seats at by-elections, independent Dr. Joe McGirr in the seat of Wagga Wagga and Philip Donato (SFF) in Orange.

The remaining members of the Crossbench include three Greens, who hold Balmain and Newtown in the inner-west of Sydney and Ballina around Byron Bay, and two centrist independents, Alex Greenwich in the seat of Sydney and Greg Piper in Lake Macquarie. The SFF have the best chance of winning an additional seat.

Answer: every man, woman and their dog


What are the Polls saying? Should we care?

State polls are hardly the most reliable estimate of voting intentions, and with so many different categories of contests raging across the state, the NSW election follows the old rule that elections are won and lost in the marginal seats. What pollsters care about is the two-party ‘swing’, that is how much the state on average might swing towards either party.

If the marginal seats, those that were won with only a slim percentage of the vote, follow the state-wide trend then, a healthy swing (after preferences) to the opposition party will mean it could win enough of those marginals to get to that magic number of 47.

For Labor this time around, starting on its current 34 seats it will need to win 13 seats to win an outright majority. With the 13th most vulnerable Coalition seat sitting on an 8.7% margin, Labor would need to get a state-wide swing of at least 8.7% to win all 13 of those (around 54.38% of the two-party preferred vote).                                            

Even so, if the Liberals and Nats hold on to their margins in the seats that count it is perfectly possible for them to lose the popular vote but maintain control of government.

Answer: yeah nah, watch those marginal seats.

So, what could happen after the election?

If either party wins a majority of seats, then end of story. However, with the Coalition on a 6-seat majority and with 6 seats on a margin of less than 3.2%, alongside Labor’s daunting starting position, most analysts are betting on the chance of a hung parliament and minority government.

The question will become who gets the confidence of the lower house to lead a minority government. That will depend on three factors, how many seats Labor takes from the Coalition, how well the Greens and SFF do, and finally what the three centrist independents decide.

Breaking down the marginals, on a 6.7% swing Labor could theoretically win 10 seats.

·      East Hills (Lib 0.4%), Coogee (Lib 2.9%) Penrith (6.2%), Oatley (6.6%), and Holsworthy (6.7%) in Sydney.

·      Upper Hunter (Nats 2.2%), Monaro (Nats 2.5%) and Goulburn (Lib 6.6%) in inland NSW.

·      Lismore (Nat 0.2%) and Tweed (Nat 3.2%) in the Northern Rivers

The Greens have ruled out making deals with the Liberals, so assuming they do not lose any of their current 3 seats to the Coalition (unlikely) that would place Labor with an effective majority 47 seats.


Answer: We get back to our normal lives

So, if 10 seats between Labor and the Greens guarantee a change of government, does that mean any less will leave Gladys in charge?

Not necessarily, while negotiations could throw all kind of surprises, Labor with Greens support could theoretically form government with a gain from the Coalition of as few as 7 seats. Any fewer, and Gladys could form government by breaking her promise and relying on the SFF, or (more likely) by convincing the independents to support her. But with a net gain of 7, Labor would be in with a chance of securing the confidence of the crossbench. All three have strongly signalled their support for action on Climate Change and a managed transition away from coal, which Labor is certainly more open to than the Coalition.   

The Liberals have howled a fair bit about Labor’s preference deals with the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, but it is unlikely that Labor would form government on the back of their support. Any such deal would likely rule out support from the Greens and other progressive members of the crossbench, as the SFF’s policies on land clearing (big fans), national parks (not so much), and of course, guns (can’t get enough) would be an uncomfortable compromise, to say the least.


The point of the deal is to drag down the National Party vote, and hopefully narrow the seat gap between the Coalition and Labor. The Nats could quite possibly lose Barwon and Murray in far west NSW to SFF candidates, with the Menindee Fish Kill and other water-related issues a major controversy for the Coalition incumbents. If it loses even 1 more seat to them that would equalise the seat tally between the Coalition and Labor + Greens, and thus give the independents a firmer reason to support a change of premier.

Answer: it’s messy, Labor will aim for 10 and has a shot with 7.

So, to summarise, this election will be a nail biter, possibly for days even after all the votes come in. Gladys can and probably will lose 6 seats and her majority with it, but whether she can hold onto another 4 years (assuming the party doesn’t decapitate her in the great tradition of Australian politics) is still a big question.

Any more than that, punters, and all bets are off.   

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