Why Federal Politicians Will Be Watching Today's State Election Like Hawks
It was while inhaling a succulent Chinese chicken that my mate Graham Richardson reminded me that “politics is better than sex and almost as good as lunch”.
A great line that does not apply to NSW state elections.
State elections are boring, formulaic and often inconsequential. Sure you get the occasional surprise; Jeff Kennett losing Victoria in the late '90s or Annastacia Palaszczuk winning more recently in Queensland. But mostly nothing happens.
While we might be bored by it all, the Canberra politicians aren’t. They will be watching the State election like hawks. Not simply because deep down they enjoy other politicians crashing and burning with the same sick depravity that a five-year-old pulls wings off a fly (though that’s part of it). They watch because there are lessons and trends coming out of tomorrow that will shape the Federal election and its outcome.
Here are five things politicians in Canberra will be looking for.
1. How cooked are the Nats?
The National Party is having an identity crisis. It appears it’s hard to be a family-values-based rural party when your representatives keep moving on to new families and everyone lives in the city. It doesn’t help when your Federal Leader, Matthew McCormack has less profile than the few remaining Rugby League players without a sex scandal (his name is Michael by the way, not Matthew). Barnaby Joyce’s drunk-uncle-“I’m-the-elected-deputy-Prime Minister-of-Australia” routine hasn’t helped either. It’s all a distraction.
There are a swag of seats outside Sydney that are in play that were either once held, or should be held, by the National Party. Lismore, Orange, Tweed, Ballina, Upper Hunter, Coffs Harbour and Barwon (Broken Hill) are where they will be watching.
This will be a test of how strong the National Party brand is heading into a Federal election. The worse they do, the more resources Labor will put into trying to win traditionally unwinnable Federal National Party electorates.
My prediction: The National Party will have a terrible night on Saturday. The State Nationals will blame the Federal Party. Barnaby will claim he should be leader again. Everyone will get drunk.
2. Will Chinese Australian voters abandon Labor?
For Labor to win it has to perfect a high wire act of retaining all its Sydney seats (with picking up a few) and cleaning in the regions. This task was made a whole lot harder when footage emerged this week of Michael Daley addressing a crowd in the Blue Mountains complaining about the success many Chinese immigrants have had in their adopted country.
It was offensive, insensitive and simply wrong.
Federal politicians will be looking to see if there is a backlash in the Labor seats of Strathfield, Kogarah, Canterbury and Auburn. These seats have the largest Chinese Australian communities, though the large Sydney Chinese community isn’t limited to just these seats. The Liberal held seats of Oatley and Ryde, once thought to be in trouble will also be worth watching.
My prediction: The only seat this could cost Labor (Strathfield) has a strong incumbent. No seats will change hands because of it but it certainly hasn’t helped Labor.
3. Will Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten appear on Election Day material?
Federal politicians will be looking to see if the Liberals put up Scott Morrison posters and if Labor will be using Bill Shorten. They will also look to see how much negative advertising of the other leader is used.
This is an insight into the polling data. Election Day banners and material is not a creative process. This is not "Mad Men" (expect everyone IS mad and it's almost always men). The designs are a straight lift from who the data says is and isn’t popular.
My prediction: Scott Morrison will appear on Labor’s attack material. Bill Shorten won’t be on the Liberals'.
4. HOW CRAZY EXCITED WILL MARK LATHAM BE AFTER HE WINS ON THE NIGHT?
Mark Latham is going to get elected to the NSW Upper House. For One Nation. His third party in as many years.
You need 4.5 percent of the vote to be guaranteed a spot in the NSW Upper House -- a chamber so obscure you didn’t know it existed.
Candidate speeches on election night are usually formulaic. The winner is told to outline their agenda, the loser is told the 3Gs -- be gracious, be generous and then get off.
Latham threw out his script a while back. Sure I can tell you there are Federal implications for a rising One Nation vote, but that is not why everyone will watch. There is a reason you can’t turn away while the train hurtles towards a brick wall.
My prediction: Hold on for the ride. Again.
5. CAN GLADYS GIVE THE FEDERAL LIBERALS HOPE?
There isn’t that much to be excited about for the Federal Government. The polling is dire. Its internal party brawls have taken over its agenda and there is a smell of death that surrounds it.
It will take any sign of improvement the that it can.
If Gladys Berejiklian wins (and I think she will) her path to victory will be the template for the Federal Party.
Her victory will rely on stemming losses in the bush and maintaining her Sydney heartland. It won’t be easy transporting that strategy on to the nation but it's not as if there is currently any strategy at all.
My prediction: Gladys wins. The Federal Government attempts to initiate its strategy and fails at doing so, because it fails at everything.
Sam Dastyari was a Federal Labor Senator and campaign director for NSW Labor at the 2011 State Election. The worst result in modern Labor history.