Analysis – 2019 NSW State Election

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The result
The Liberal Party-National Party Coalition Government, under the leadership of Premier, Hon Gladys Berejiklian MP has seen off a challenge from Labor (and Leader of the Opposition, Hon Michael Daley MP) and has been returned to government following last weekend’s 2019 New South Wales state election. This means the conservative parties will govern for a third term. It’s also the first time the state has elected a female Premier at an election.

Current state of play
There are 93 seats in the NSW Parliament’s Legislative Assembly (lower house), meaning a party must win 47 seats in order to form a majority government. With counting of votes continuing (and almost 80% of votes counted), the ABC has given the Liberals and Nationals a combined total of 48 seats, Labor 36 seats and nine seats have been won by others (Greens three, Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party three and three independents). Ms Berejiklian has, therefore, won the 47 seats required for majority government.

Movement of votes
The Coalition attracted about 42% of the primary vote, despite a combined swing against the Liberals/Nationals of almost 3%. Labor’s vote dropped about 1% to 33%. The Greens also dropped about 1% to about 9%. So, where did these votes go? Largely, to the minor parties who did comparatively well. The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers led the way, picking up over 3% of the vote which translated to three seats (compared to the one it held in the previous Parliament, and at the expense of the Nationals in regional NSW).

X-factor
While counting for seats in the Legislative Council (upper house) is also continuing, early indications are that the former Labor federal Leader of the Opposition, Mr Mark Latham could win a seat with the party he joined relatively recently, One Nation (which is led in federal Parliament by Senator Pauline Hanson).

Major reasons why the Coalition is set to be returned
Up until the final week of the campaign, Premier Berejiklian looked to be in trouble because of a scatter-gun approach to the election campaign where she campaigned on a broad range of issues in a broad range of areas, instead of focusing on one or two major themes. Proceeding with the demolition of the Sydney Football Stadium during the campaign as part of the Government’s plans to upgrade major sporting facilities in Sydney was also a risk. However, one of the major reasons why her government looks set to be returned was Mr Daley had a poor final week. The Premier outpointed him in a publicly-televised election debate. Another setback was when video footage emerged of him making comments about Asian people, which were construed by some as bordering on racist. Other reasons for the outcome include the strength of the NSW economy and that some voters might not yet wish to return to supporting Labor after the controversy-mired end of its previous term of government circa 2009-2011.

What does the outcome mean for registration of engineers in NSW?
Both the Coalition and Labor committed to introducing a compulsory registration scheme for engineers in NSW in the lead-up to the election. Details of the Labor plan remain available on the Engineers Australia NSW election campaign site, www.engineersaustralia.org.au/NSWElection2019.
For the Coalition, a significant driver for the commitment was the structural damage caused to the Opal Tower apartment building in Sydney and the release of an independent report into the cause which found that if a registry of engineers had been created, this “would have significantly reduced the likelihood of, or avoided, the Opal Tower damage”. While the detail of the Coalition’s policy is still to be worked out, it is expected that new rules are expected to apply to National Construction Code-related work (and not infrastructure, such as bridges and roads). The Coalition said its proposed regime changes would mean:

  • Building designers, including engineers, would have to declare that building plans specify a building complies with the Building Code of Australia;
  • Builders would have to declare that buildings have been built according to their plans; and
  • It would be a requirement for building designers and builders to be registered for this purpose.

The NSW Government has also been considering its response to another major report (dated February 2018) prepared for relevant federal and state/territory Ministers about improving the effectiveness of compliance and enforcement systems for the building and construction industry (the report was written by former Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Professor Peter Shergold AC and building regulation legal specialist, Ms Bronwyn Weir). The first recommendation in this report was “that each jurisdiction requires the registration of the following categories of building practitioners in the design, construction and maintenance of buildings: (among others) engineer”.

Last week, Engineers Australia received a commitment from the NSW Coalition that if it was re-elected, it would commence consultation with stakeholders – including Engineers Australia – on its response to the Shergold-Weir report within six months of the election.

What does the outcome mean for other major policy areas?
With a small majority, Ms Berejiklian can expect relatively stable government, which would assist her to continue the implementation of her economic policy agenda. This means pushing forward with the Government’s agenda of building and upgrading major transport infrastructure and sporting stadiums. A more stable government (than if the Coalition was a minority government meaning the Premier would have had to rely on several cross-benchers to continue to govern) also means less uncertainty for business, particularly on more controversial policy issues (for example, regulation of the greyhound racing industry).

Increased influence of independents/minor parties
The positive result for independents and minor parties, particularly the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, means the Government will need to be more receptive to their policy priorities, notably if the Government requires their support in the upper house for the passage of legislation. The success of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers has been partially attributed to recent public divisions among the Nationals at federal level – and this is a warning the Nationals will need to heed if its vote is to hold up at the federal election.

What’s next in NSW politics?
Further counting will be required to determine the final, overall outcome. Although he has only been in the role since late 2018, Mr Daley’s leadership has faced pressure because of the drop in Labor’s primary vote. Accordingly, he has announced that he has stepped down from the NSW Opposition leader position, but will contest a leadership ballot that is expected to be held after the federal election. Labor’s deputy leader, Hon Penny Sharpe MLC, will act as the interim leader until the ballot is held.

Implications for this year’s federal election
In the audience to watch Ms Berejiklian’s victory speech on Saturday night, the Prime Minister, Hon Scott Morrison MP, would have breathed a huge sigh of relief. The current dissatisfaction with the federal Coalition Government would have cost the state Coalition some votes at the NSW election, but this wasn’t enough to see a change of government. However, Mr Morrison can still look forward to an incredibly tough battle at the federal election, which is likely to be held in May. This is because Australian voters are, usually, very good at differentiating between state and federal issues, and, by extension, state and federal governments, when they go to the ballot box. Also, many distinctly local issues contributed to the NSW election result, such as the drought/water in regional NSW. Federal Labor, under Leader of the Opposition, Hon Bill Shorten MP remains a warm favourite to win the federal election.