13 March 2015

New South Wales twenty-fifteen

This NSW election is a bizarre one for me, on a number of levels. My Young Liberal contemporaries are in positions of power. Labor have sprung back with a series of positions that simply don't stand up to scrutiny. They are complaining about dodgy donations, particularly as none are coming to them. It's becoming increasingly clear what a politics that transcends the governing parties looks like, one with sufficient depth and ballast to pull the majors into line rather than the reverse - and the Greens play a smaller part of that (and Fred Nile a greater one) than I thought. This election is more important than the inevitable last one or the weird, tentative one before that.


Mike Baird and the Liberals have been blindsided by the idea that 'asset recycling' is unconvincing. They should have developed a narrative that explains and defends it (and why asset sales are to be preferred over debt in an era of low interest rates and investment capital seeking solid projects. They should have foreseen that Labor would do well in Victoria and Queensland opposing asset sales per se, and that the same magic would work in NSW (particularly as business is all but ignoring Labor).

Just as the party had cauterised the bleeding from those self-inflicted wounds at ICAC, up pops Joe Hockey suing Fairfax and reminding everyone about the big-money donations flowing into the Liberal Party. Nice one Joe! Even if you do have any money for no-hopers in seats like Oatley, they won't thank you.

There are a number of reasons why they didn't. Their membership base is so small that they don't represent a large cross-section of the community any more. Like any dysfunctional organisation, they equate questioning, challenging individuals with fifth columnists and incompetents and manage them out accordingly. To engage with an idea for the purposes of probing its weaknesses, stealing or concealing its strengths, and overcoming its advocates, is no longer seen as useful work; far easier and quicker to assemble dirt files and background the more gullible remnants of the press gallery, who can't cope with policy anyway.


The NSW electricity grid is ageing and almost entirely energised by burning coal. There have been several attempts to privatise it over the past two decades, depreciating in value each time. It is likely that households will be powered by solar or other small-scale power-generation systems, backed up by large-scale distribution systems that will depend less and less on burning coal, poles, wires, and all that nineteenth-century crap on the auction block right now. To flog it off now would see private industry bear the risks of transition that can only be borne by the public; and there will be public 'sweeteners' to mitigate that risk, which is what I'm worried about.

The relevant minister, Anthony Roberts, isn't a policy innovator like Gladys Berejiklian or Adrian Piccoli are, and the wide boys from the merchant banks will pull the wool over his eyes and pick his pockets before he has worked out what's happened. He thinks he's being clever by downplaying renewables, but history won't be kind to his dithering.

I'm not being hard on Robbo, I'm just holding him to standards he could never meet. Sometimes when you set the bar really high, people like him do the limbo under it and laugh at you: that's politics, baby.

The NSW electricity grid is a depreciating asset. There is a significant element in Labor (probably the majority of its remaining members) who regard it as 'sacred' or 'iconic' - but if they really believed that they would never have let it deteriorate to this extent. They let it deteriorate because they know it's a depreciating asset, and that the jobs are all in renewables - and that those workers won't be easily herded into union membership like employees of the old Electricity Commission were.

I agree with Peter Wicks when he says:
If Mike Baird wins the election on the 28th and the electricity sell off occurs, I predict that within a few years the boardroom of whatever corporation ends up running our power network will not only be made up of greedy profiteering businessmen, it will also be loaded with former Liberal Ministers.
Yep - and if Labor are in government then, one or two old hands who can pull the young pups into line.

If ever there was a time to hedge your bets until the future becomes clearer, now is that time. Such a choice flies in the face of that great political imperative, Being Seen To Be Doing Something. All the soft options in this area have been whittled away, leaving only cynical and empty group exercises that political-class smarties regard as the only role for mass participation in modern politics.

I just don't believe NSW Labor

Luke Foley was up to his eyeballs in the rise and fall of the last three Labor Premiers, just as John Robertson was. Labor's framing of him as a cleanskin is bullshit. Labor's insistence that he is to be taken at his word, just like Tony Abbott was before the last federal election, is bullshit. I don't trust Foley to avoid some sort of Damascene conversion to tollroads or coal-seam gas or selling poles-and-wires or banning all abortions.

NSW Labor has reformed itself considerably in the last four years, except when it comes to policy. I don't believe that Labor has learned the lessons ICAC and the voters tried to teach it, in the same way that the federal Coalition under Abbott avoided learning the lessons that Howard's failure was trying to teach them. It's all stunt work: handing back Goat Island to Aboriginal communities with bigger priorities, demountable classrooms, penny-ante stuff worthy of Bob Carr at his most diffident.

Art and culture

Yes, art and culture. I wish there were more evidence of local community art projects, embassies and training-grounds from the cultural powerhouses of the inner city: not just repositories of local kids' paintings from three years ago, nor seniors' crochet work, nor half-baked productions of Oh What A Lovely War!. Neither of the majors deserve the benefit of the doubt on this.

The Powerhouse Museum should be relocated to what is now an abandoned school site by O'Connell Street, Parramatta, on the northern side of the river. It should be much, much better than it is - better than this, dream big! - hopefully without being some glistering mockery of deindustrialised western Sydney.


This is what all election analysis should be like: the focus on state and community and what it needs, not fluffing aimed at keeping up press gallery relationships. Penny Sharpe has received more publicity than almost anyone on Labor's frontbench, as you might expect from someone who learned their politics at the National Union of Students, but once again NUS has thrown up another hack who succeeds at nothing but attracting publicity for its own sake. Sharpe was up against one of Baird's better ministers - you can see why, on election night 2011, Barry O'Farrell wanted to talk only to Gladys - but that's no excuse. Sharpe concentrated on nitpicking current transport policy and couldn't even do that convincingly. If the Greens get up in Newtown they may have done Foley a favour.

The Newcastle rail line, the Pacific and Princes Highways, Westconnex - there are other issues, of course, but Labor are pretty much absent from them all. The Coalition is doing or has done all it intends to do. Few independents are out there galvanising those issues, which is a pity.


While Federal Labor deserve praise for their commitment to Gonski's school resourcing proposals, state Labor don't deserve to insinuate themselves into voter assumptions that they would support those proposals. Adrian Piccoli is the country's best education minister and he wears the crown of thorns bestowed by Pyne and Abbott for showing up those arseclowns in Canberra. He seems to have learnt from a debacle like this, the sort of thing that pole-axes governments elsewhere and which gives some indication of what a future in participatory politics looks like.

Disclosure: While TAFE is a huge issue in this election, and I have lots of opinions and feels about vocational education, there won't be any comment on it in this blog. I've worked for TAFE NSW, and sometimes knowledge and insight comes with a determination not to make a tough job harder for those who remain. Plenty of other avenues for you to read up and comment about that.


When Jillian Skinner beat off the independent forces of Ted Mack and restored the Liberals to the lower north shore, she focused on health policy and was (eventually) rewarded with the ministry. When Labor was wiped out in 2011 its only remaining member who knew anything about health, Andrew McDonald, became shadow minister. There have been a few changes and a few blow-ups but no real shift in emphasis. There have been no big epochal debates despite being a huge, politically sensitive, fast-moving and interesting area; again, political-class smarties regard this as a sign of success, but fuck those people. McDonald is quitting at the next election and apart from some Victoria-style union stunts by and for nurses and ambos, there is no real alternative policy.

Aged care and disability services

Baird was stupid and wrong to outsource these services to the private sector, and I note that Labor won't restore the status quo ante; maybe that's why Linda Burney was a non-starter to replace Robertson. But no, since you asked, I don't have a better idea in my back pocket either.

Policing, Justice, Law and Order, Gaming, Alcohol licensing, Drugs, Indigenous people in detention, ...

(covers face with hands, groans as though gut-punched)

Prognostication time

Read on at your own risk. Regular readers of this blog know that I am rubbish at forecasts, going on feels rather than polls and underestimating the extent to which people are taken in by press gallery coverage.

The upper house

The lower house might propose but the upper house disposes, and frankly one of the glaring weaknesses of political coverage (state or federal) is its lack of understanding and reporting of what goes on in the upper house.

First, read this. Antony Green is the master psephologist but he hates minor parties, they always blindside his software on ABC election night coverage. He is right to say that NSW has limited the impact of minor parties to a greater extent than in federal elections, but this election will see a stronger showing from parties other than the majors. This isn't only because there are so many candidates and minor parties.

If the Coalition was going into this election with the same sort of momentum that they had in 2011, they might win 11 of the 21 seats on offer in the Legislative Council and hence control the upper house - but they aren't. They will need to control both houses of state parliament to sell off the electricity grid - but they won't. So much for that.

The Shooters and Fishers have overplayed their hand with free-fire zones in National Parks and with their support of this government's less popular measures. They may yet attract conservative voters who think Baird's too moderate but Nile's too preachy and anti-Muslim, but S+F aren't doing much to hold those voters.

Nile hasn't gone forward or backward, he will remain in place like a little pebble.

While the anti-CSG forces won't win any seats in the lower house, they will coalesce in the upper house - and it is almost impossible to to believe that someone opposing coal-seam gas won't also oppose selling the electricity grid. This person may or may not be Green, but they won't be the inner-city denizen thrown up by that party on the mainland. They may be someone who's clearly rural and working-class and defiantly anti-political-class, like Ricky Muir.

Prediction: the majors 8 each, Nile, at least one Green - and, uh, another three not to the major parties.

The lower house

There are 93 seats of the Legislative Assembly (the lower house), so you need 47 to get a majority in that house to form government. See, I'm not totally innumerate.

Again, read Mr Green. Go to the list of Coalition seats on the left-hand side and scroll from the top down to The Entrance: that's 20 seats. Give them all to Labor, except Coogee and Kiama. Give Labor Port Stephens too.

Too hard to call from this angle:
  • Blue Mountains
  • Mulgoa
  • Parramatta
The Nats may retain Tamworth, and they may hold political-class girner Steve Whan out of Monaro if Barilaro has kept up his local-boy-done-good schtick. Or not.

It looks like independents have missed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to punt the Nats from Upper Hunter. Thy are, however, starting to rattle the Nats along the north coast, learning lessons that will do for Hartsuyker and Gillespie at the next federal election.

That gives the Coalition 45-50 seats out of 93, a kick in the teeth but most likely still in government. Abbott is gone no matter what.


  1. Gee Wilikers Andrew, this is a grim read for the wee hours.

    Abandon hope all ye ....

    Admittedly it is pretty hard to be hopeful when both major parties seem so powerless, vision less, talentless, humourless, charmless, witless and most other things you can attach a 'less' to.

    Both parties are completely out of step with the electorate, or large sections of it. I think we are getting huge swings at elections because voters are no longer tribally attached. Certainly that is not an original observation.

    The electorate can now afford to be fickle because what-the-hell-does-it-matter anyway.

    And yet ....

    I live in hope that the ALP has woken up to itself that community and creativity matter to people. If Shorten does not reveal a genuine vision backed by sound policies after the Budget is released like a ferret in a few weeks then I will be sunk in gloom. Like you Andrew I am hopeless at predictions.

    Meanwhile I think I will go an eat a brown onion with the skin on. What was all that about?

    1. I hate the electorate-is-fickle bullshit. The electorate wants to be governed well, it's the political class that can't ride the news cycle.

      Nobody in the ALP, Foley included, got where they are via community and creativity.

      The onion-eating thing shows how Abbott plays the media.

    2. I don't think the electorate is fickle. I believe the reverse is the case. We do want to be governed well. In my opinion the old tribal loyalties have weakened considerably. I think people are less than impressed by our politicians and feel disconnected. By all measures Tony Abbott has never been popular but he was not Rudd or Gillard, both of whom went from popularity to unpopularity in a blink.

      I agree about the onion. Attention seeking. But why be so juvenile? That is the puzzle.

    3. Furthermore ....
      I think the electorate wants policies that are inclusive and creative. I think most recognise that politicians mouth allegiance to such matters.

  2. The Greens would have to poll under 7% to win only one upper house seat; I see no sign they are on track to such a disastrous result. They are more interested in a potential third (sixth) seat. The Shooters and Nile are both talking big about a potential third, but I can't see that happening. I think it will be genuinely difficult for a new minor to break into the upper house with this voting system - Bob Smith has come close in the past for the Fishing Party but I'd see the Shooters eating up much of that vote, and I guess there's an outside chance the No Land Tax people's 93 lower house candidates will generate enough random noise to give them some hope. None of the independents have a chance in hell, especially those morons who registered groups without the required 15 candidates and so get no above-the-line box (including the new unregistered "Country Party" group).

    What makes you so doubtful about Kiama? I also reckon Monaro's probably gone for the Nats; I know there was a below-average swing last time but I can't see anything under 5% staying in the Coalition column, let alone a 2% seat like Monaro. Weird that independents don't seem to be making much of a show of it (I lean towards thinking Draper gets back in, but Foley's experience in Maryborough gives me a lot of doubt); but then, no one had heard of Suzanna Sheed before Victoria's election night.

  3. Politics in NSW is a pretty dire affair, no question about that. Must say, I am struggling to even understand policy at this point (ALP that is, as I would not consider voting Lib).

    For me the critical issue is mining approvals....NOT just CSG, but also long wall miming, in areas like the Liverpool Plains, near rivers and other water resources. I think this is an extremely important subject. Many city people seem unaware of it (other that in a NIMBY way re CSG) and yet it is the most immediate threat to Australias future IMO. The destruction of agricultural land, the cracking of rivers and rivulets has already happened.

    I will be interested to see the impact of this topic, especially on the Nationals. Those bastards sold out farmers a long time ago, and all the "moratoriums" in the world do not mean that any of the major parties can be trusted. And the Feds can certainly NOT be trusted to act in accordance with the spirit of the "water trigger" legislation enacted by the last government. Introduced by Tony Windsor, these amendments to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), were passed in June 2013. They resulted from DECADES of work, and the Abbott government has already discussed "handing back the powers to the states". The states can not be trusted in this area, nor can this federal government.

    I will be voting Green, for this reason alone.

    The Upper House is of course critical, and I only hope that the mad bastards in The Fishers and Shooters Party lose their role as power brokers. We have seen more than enough of what that means.

    1. It is nice to have an election campaign that focuses on issues, though.

      The North Coast is interesting. They used to be dominated by old-school Country Party types who spent the last few decades using and abusing public facilities to flog off farmland for cheap housing. Those guys have made their money and retired, and that cheap housing has become suburban communities. Nats still insist in running traditional hayseed types, the Greens seem to have stopped running their traditional boomer Reiki moonbeam therapists, so the politics of that area are starting to become very interesting.

    2. "the Greens seem to have stopped running their traditional boomer Reiki moonbeam therapists"

      Bwhaha!!! Very funny, love it. I am not usually a Greens voter btw, but this issue gives me no option. The last ALP govt was a disaster on mining.....pulling stunts like changing legislation after the farmers in the Liverpool Plains won a case against BHP in court (to circumvent the implications of that victory).

      It has been fascinating in recent years to see the alliances between environmental groups and farmers. A whole new dynamic!

      The Nats seem to be TONE deaf to the decline of their party, unbelievable. They just lack courage, and as you say, many of the old brigade have made their money and retired, or joined mining companies (John Anderson). But country voters SEEM to be finally catching on ...."knitting nannas" and similar have helped there. I just hope the party gets the booting it deserves.

  4. It's interesting we have Fiona Patten here in Victoria from The Australian Sex Party and a couple of others from The Shooters here as well....

    So far so good. ...quirky yet functioning at the moment.

    Let's see what happens down the track.

    1. Gah, I forgot the Sexies! They may well end u with one of those three

    2. She's been a lobbyist for the Adult Entertainment Industry and got in on the finances of the Eros Foundation...( had a brief stint as a prostitute)

      We live up to our status as the most progressive state in Australia as a result!!

      She looks fabulous for a woman of fifty years old don't you think dear readers??

    3. Lachlan Ridge18/3/15 1:24 pm

      The Sex Party is not registered for the NSW election, nor is it running candidates.

      As someone who knows Fiona, she would groan that her appearance is an issue. Let's Dorothy Parker your last sentence to reveal how inane it is: "Christopher Pyne looks fabulous for a man of fifty years old don't you think dear readers??"

      Nothing progressive about objectification old son.

    4. Azrael the Cat19/3/15 10:38 am

      Well I'm not sure about Pyne (it's hard to get past that voice) and I haven't seen a photo of Fiona, but Malcolm Turnbull looks rather fab for a man of his years. Long hours in a sedentiary job, plus the dinners and booze culture makes parliament a bit of an aesthetic horror show, but Turnbull's a handsome chap by any standards. Not supermodel hot, but I wouldn't die of fright if I woke up hungover to find him in my bed one morning.

    5. ahem..Lachlan that's a compliment as im a female as well!

      i admire her for that reason ALONG with her intelligence

      she is also a political animal and many people forget that fact as well


    6. Azrael...your facetious comment is amusing but if we're going to have elected officials on our television screens nearly everyday, I want mine nice to look at as well.

      It's the whole package that counts these days.

      That's a sad reality..sorry to burst the bubble of the political nerds reading this.

    7. Bahaaaaaa

      Let's not even talk about the objectification of gay liberals and their comments ie Tim Wilson

      It wouldn't even be allowed on a blog like this .

    8. Oh come on, Azrael - you can't tell that Malcolm's had work done recently? Just look at 2015 pics in comparison with a couple of years ago!!!

  5. Ian Milliss14/3/15 7:34 pm

    I'd give Blue Moutains to the ALP, Roza Sage has been almost invisible for her entire tenure, her most publicised moment was voting to cut fire services just before last years fires. She may not have as much personality as Mirabella but she is about as popular after that. And recent council by elections gave the ALP two new seats when they probably didn't really expect to win either. They have been running a good community based campaign here and I wouldn't be surprised if there was a higher than average swing here.

    1. listening to Ms Mirabella here in Melbourne with John Faine, i can understand why she lost Indi..

      Nasty and boring spin...

    2. Rest in peace Malcolm Fraser..

      No doubt we'll see an entry about this soon Andrew

      The hypocrisy of our p.m's tribute made me ill.

      Malcolm's tweets detested him profusely

      The end of an era for gentlemen in politics

    3. Yep, I'm from Indi, Mirabella was both those things and more.
      Even though we replaced one conservative with another, at least we have an old style one who engages with the community. Not an Abbott style neo-con.

      She normally votes with the government, but I just read so voted against the Data retention bill! First bit of good news I've heard in awhile.

  6. This is too insular for me.

    Libs win NSW, nothing changes.

    - Joe

  7. Lachlan Ridge15/3/15 1:31 am

    Blue Mountains is a shoe in for the ALP. It won't even be close. Yesterday at Springwood Foundation Day there was a sea of red (ALP) shirts in the parade. Roza Sage, the Lib incumbent, was nowhere to be seen. This is the Lib heartland in the mountains! It was bewildering seeing Baird's bus in Katoomba being gratified. I mean, what the hell is he doing up here? What a waste of time!

    Similarly Kiama will go to the ALP, as will Coogee and Monaro, simply because the Libs have no on-the-ground campaign, and the nurses, firies and ambos do. Barilaro has to up his vote in Cooma - a state public service delivery town - to keep him within striking distance of the big ALP booths in Queanbeyan. He might hold Jerrambomberra, but that's about it, and that won't win the seat for him.

    Nats will not win Upper Hunter. No one is preferencing them, and they will be well south of 50 percent on first preferences. Same for Lismore and Ballina. I don't know who will win those three seats, but whomever it is, they won't be sitting on the coalition benches. The mood towards the Independent Draper in Tamworth has been contrite after that electorate discovered why Draper's predecessor, Tony Windsor, saved us from Tony Abbott for three years. They also face the Liverpool Plains being turned into another upper Hunter. All the Nats have is Laura Norder. As with Baird flogging a dead horse in Katoomba, Thomas George, National MP for Lismore, was wasting time last week selling himself to his base in Tenterfield, while angry Richmond River farmers were dumping cow manure on his electoral office doorstep!

    My own seat-by-seat analysis gives the coalition 43, ALP 43, crossbench 4 and 3 too close to call (the three National seats mentioned above); and that is giving Mulgoa, Macquarie Fields and Holsworthy to the Liberals, a debatable proposition.

    On the other side I'm giving Heathcote, Seven Hills and Coogee to the ALP based on, as above, the doorknocking and card table stalls down at the local shops run by nurses, ambos and firies.

    We won't know the result on election night. At best, if all his ducks line up, Baird gets 49 seats. A majority for sure, but no ringing endorsement. Abbott will be left swinging in the breeze.

    The Legislative Council is interesting. I was inclined to 9 Lib, 8 ALP, 3 Green and a shooter, but think now that the slum landlords will send one of their own into that pokey little room in Macquarie Street, at the expense of the Libs. The Greens are good for at least two seats as a certainty, and their third placed candidate has been campaigning against CSG for the last five years, with the end result that there is no CSG single issue party - the Greens will cop all that vote. Justin Field isn't some inner city Vegan either, he's a former army intelligence officer (and Dux of Duntroon). Worth looking into his history for what the next generation of Greens politicians will look like.

    As for electricity privatisation, this blog has been here before. *sigh*

  8. Have really enjoyed the analysis and commentary here.

    Personally I do not prefer public asset sell-offs but still think the Libs will just win. I live in inner NW Sydney but am very much aware of the CSG issue and dread what would become of our best farmland if the Libs get their way.

    I am pinning most of my hope on the upper house and will definitely put the Greens and Sex Party well ahead of the Libs & Labs.

  9. https://youtu.be/KYvyJTe8iNM

    This guys a bit like watching 4 corners while being under the influence, but you will laugh and be outraged at the same time while he discusses Australian politics. This time Baird and his fondness for CSG.

  10. Andrew, alas, again I'm off topic to the above, but am curious about yours, or readers thoughts on Abbott's odd burst of Nazi related parliamentary remarks. The first, the 'Labour Holocaust of Defence Jobs', and now the 'Shorten as Dr. Goebbels of Economics'. I was baffled by the first as was clearly scripted, then cynically revoked, as has again the Shorten remark.
    Only after some thought, it occurred to me that in each case they were used immediately after a more significant disastrous Abbott statement with bad implications in days before. The Holocaust remark came days after it was clear Abbott had tried to offer up some crumbs on the submarine deal to keep the S.A. parliamentarians on board over the spill - which was obviously both dubious promise and deeply disturbing to any acquisition process for billions of dollars and multiple decades based national security. T.A.'s Shorten as Goebbels effort came days after he declared that the budget crisis is over, and all is manageable henceforth, despite the starkly obvious declining revenues and an $80 million deficit expansion in 18 months of 'emergency'.
    All this has led me to wonder if Abbott when faced with a difficult calamity of his own making, is using a cynical media tactic - to say something deliberately outrageous, that will surely lead the headlines and skewer any diligent querying of the more significant stories from days prior in media. The media being somewhat prone to go with the more superficial headline.
    Not to conspiratorial for you all I assume? But rather seems in keeping with Abbott's focus on (daily) media management (over actual policy) and equally his systematic attempts to stifle serious or difficult debate.
    Any thoughts?

  11. He's hit and miss right now.

    Followers - gathered by his consistency - are rightly perplexed,

  12. very valid point...it's deliberate and contrived..

    watch Josh Frydenbergs body language when he does this,it's GOLD

    Speaking of Media and smart blogs like this

    The Hoopla is no more as Ms Harper is exhausted and i don't blame her.

    A very wise and thoughtful team of writers and articles!!

    thanks heaps Wendy and team

  13. We all know you have a life beyond the world of this blog Mr Elder, but really, the wait for another post since 13 March is all to much for many of us to bear. You are a drop of sanity that helps so many of us channel our frustration with the deplorable gallery and its sheep. The next entry is eagerly awaited, I can assure you. Sincerely, Everyone.

  14. Andrew,

    Just walked passed Scots Church in Collins Street Melbourne and saw Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott in attendance at Malcolm Frasers funeral.

    The whole liberal team were there!!

    What are your thoughts on his passing and if his legacy will influence the next generation at all??

  15. I personally hope that whatever lies in storage for Sydney these days turns out much better than we expect. I'm not certain things will get better, but we should keep hoping!