Liberal Premier Gladys Berejiklian speaking at a press conference after winning the NSW State Election. Picture: Jane Dempster/The Australian
Liberal Premier Gladys Berejiklian speaking at a press conference after winning the NSW State Election. Picture: Jane Dempster/The Australian

‘Disgusting’: Fury over ‘cynical’ move

After a mammoth weekend of celebrations and commiserations, there are still three more seats yet to be decided in the NSW State Election.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian is expecting to form a majority government with up to 49 seats after the Liberals performed better than expected at the state election, but the Liberals still need one more seat to win outright.

As all eyes are on the three seats in the balance, a storm of criticism is brewing over NSW's regional water minister Niall Blair's decision step down and leave parliament when the Liberals can find a replacement - just moments after he was voted in.

Australian Senator Derryn Hinch blasted the move, calling it "disgusting, cynical and insulting".

Ms Berejiklian was all smiles as she spoke at Liberal HQ on Saturday night, but if Ms Berejiklian goes on to claim her final, crucial seat today - she will have $28 billion in election promises to live up to over the next four years.

One of the biggest of these is the Metro West project - a new rail line from Parramatta to the CBD which she promised to build in 2020 at a cost of $18 billion.

Ms Berejiklian has also promised to start building the Northern Beaches Tunnel in 2020, which should cut travel time between Brookvale and the CBD by 27 minutes.

On health and services, she has promised multimillion-dollar upgrades of the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, the Children's Hospital at Westmead, St George and Ryde hospitals, as well as $428 million for a children's cancer centre.

The Coalition has also promised to recruit 8300 frontline health workers over the next four years at a cost of $2.8 billion. If she's forced to lead a minority government, getting these promises over the line will be a whole lot trickier.

 

WHERE THE ELECTION IS STILL BEING CONTESTED

Of the three seats still in doubt, perhaps the most important is the ultra-marginal seat of East Hills in Sydney's southwest, which is too close to call, but the Liberals are inching ahead.

The Nationals have suffered a 19.8 per cent swing against them in the regional seat of Dubbo, but they are still on track to fend off independent runner Mathew Dickerson to hold the area.

After a bleak weekend for NSW Labor, there may perhaps be a sweetener today if they can win in Lismore - as they are leading the race for the seat which is currently held by the Nationals.

24/03/2019. Liberal Premier Gladys Berejiklian speaking at a press conference after winning the NSW State Election. Jane Dempster/The Australian
24/03/2019. Liberal Premier Gladys Berejiklian speaking at a press conference after winning the NSW State Election. Jane Dempster/The Australian

Ms Berejiklian on Sunday again refused to concede the loss of any Liberal seats despite most pundits calling the eastern suburbs electorate of Coogee as a Labor gain.

The Liberal leader told reporters the coalition would win between 47 and 49 seats, allowing her to continue governing in her own right.

With almost 70 per cent of the votes counted, the Liberal-Nationals coalition had 46 seats - just one short of an outright majority - in the 93-seat parliament.

But even if it falls short, Ms Berejiklian will be able to rely on the three returning independents - Alex Greenwich, Greg Piper and Joe McGirr.

"I want them to have a strong working relationship with my government from day one - not just when I might need them," the premier told reporters on Sunday.

Ms Berejiklian said the win gave her an opportunity to put a new team together in a cabinet reshuffle.

The Nationals losses in Barwon and Murray, in addition to massive swings against them in a number of other seats, was a sign regional communities are doing it tough, the Premier said.

"I've heard what they've said loudly and clearly … in some ways it was a cry for help from western NSW."

 

OUTRAGE AS MINISTER STEPS DOWN MOMENTS AFTER BEING VOTED IN

Just moments after he was elected, it was announced NSW's regional water minister Niall Blair will step down and leave parliament when the Liberals can find a replacement.

The move has stoked anger, with Australian Senator Derryn Hinch saying the timing of the announcement was "disgusting, cynical and insulting" to those who voted for Mr Blair.

 

Niall Blair says politics has impacted his family life. Picture: Niall Blair
Niall Blair says politics has impacted his family life. Picture: Niall Blair

However, Mr Blair reportedly told ABC's Brigid Glanville he didn't want his departure to be a distraction during the election after mass fish deaths in the state's major inland rivers sparked a barrage of threats and fuelled voter backlash.

Mr Blair acknowledged hostility, directed at him after millions of fish died in struggling inland river systems, had impacted his family life.

"I know there are people who are suggesting I should be sacked or that my resignation from Cabinet is due to the challenges and incorrect accusations that have been made about the government when it comes to water management," he said in a statement.

"I cannot deny that the level of aggression directed towards me around water policy has had a profound impact."

The native fish kill prompted a large debate around water management in the drought-stricken regions and sparked accusations that cotton growers and irrigators were responsible for the ecological catastrophe.

Protesters poured a bucket of dead fish on the ground in front of Mr Blair's Sydney office earlier this year while the Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party called for him to resign.

 

WHY THE SHOOTERS MADE SUCH A MAJOR IMPACT

Devastating swings against the Nationals mean a western third of NSW now belongs to the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, who picked up both Barwon and Murray, while massively extending their lead in Orange.

Gabrielle Chan, the author of Rusted Off, Why country Australia is fed up said she saw this level of discontent coming from the bush.

"There's been a growing sense of discontent in the country for a while now," she told ABC Radio Sydney. "The change in global politics has translated into a disruption of rural politics at a low level in Australia, and I think that's what you've seen on Saturday night.

The Nationals have suffered devastating swings against them in the country. Picture: Toby Zerna
The Nationals have suffered devastating swings against them in the country. Picture: Toby Zerna

"The Shooters weren't just talking about guns, they were talking about health, emergency services and all of the day-to-day things people need it isolated places.

"Those sort of things are in the front of people's minds in the area, and if you don't get an answer from the mainstream parties, they'll start to look for alternatives.

"For too long some Nationals MPs have taken their seats for granted."

 

ABBOTT READS INTO GLADYS WIN

Under-pressure former Primer Minister Tony Abbott believes the NSW election result shows the leadership churn in Canberra hasn't caused lasting brand damage to the Liberal Party.

He may be fending off pressure from a grassroots movement to boot him out in his own north Sydney electorate, but Mr Abbott said Saturday's coalition victory was a "personal triumph" for Ms Berejiklian, who had to overcome some "clever spin" from Labor.

 

Tony Abbott says the NSW State Election shows the Liberal party’s brand is still strong. Picture: Monique Harmer
Tony Abbott says the NSW State Election shows the Liberal party’s brand is still strong. Picture: Monique Harmer

 

"It's a reassuring sign that the Liberal Party has not suffered lasting brand damage from the leadership churn in Canberra," he wrote in an opinion piece for The Daily Telegraph on Monday.

"The election gave voters a deeper appreciation of her competence and decency and confirmed their judgment she wasn't just better than the alternative, she was actually good at the job."

 

 

DALEY TO STAND DEFIANT

NSW Labor leader Michael Daley has only been in the top job for four months but after Saturday's poor showing his days could well be numbered.

He insisted on Sunday he'd remain as leader, noting Labor wasn't the only party to experience a dent in its primary vote.

"On primary votes we all went backwards, there's a deep cynicism in the electorate and that concerns me," Mr Daley told reporters.

"(The coalition) tripped over the line, I don't think they can say they had a great campaign or a great story to tell."

Labor frontbencher Jodi McKay - a potential leadership contender along with Chris Minns - backed Mr Daley to stay in the top job on Saturday night before adding: "In saying that, last week we had a bad week."

There's been a statewide one per cent swing against Labor. The Liberals slid 2.4 per cent, the Nationals declined 0.9 per cent and the Greens slipped one per cent too.

 

Michael Daley’s days as NSW Labor leader could be numbered. Picture: Jonathan Ng
Michael Daley’s days as NSW Labor leader could be numbered. Picture: Jonathan Ng

 

Ms Berejiklian on Saturday became the first woman to be popularly elected premier of NSW and she'll lead the coalition into a third straight term for the first time in 50-odd years.

She told the party faithful on Saturday night she was incredibly proud of NSW where "someone with a long surname - and a woman - can be the premier". Labor has won 35 seats so far with the Greens retaining three and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party securing at least two.

Liberals hope the result is an indication NSW voters won't punish the prime minister and the party for the 2018 chaos in Canberra when they cast their ballots in May's federal election.

"How good is Gladys Berejiklian and how good is the Liberal Party here in NSW," Mr Morrison told supporters ahead of the Premier's victory speech.