I found this a confusing election, especially in trying to compare the results with those in the previous election. There was the redistribution, then in the run up to the election itself a number of sitting members left their parties to sit on the cross-benches, increasing the technical number of independents from six to ten.
I also found the weight placed on the two party preferred vote confusing and indeed at times misleading.
For the benefit of international readers, to win Government, you must achieve a majority in the Legislative Assembly or lower house.
NSW has what is called an optional preferential voting system. Under this, you vote one for the candidate of your choice. You may then, if you wish (this is the optional part), vote for other candidates in order of preference, two, three, four etc. If a candidate does not get a majority of votes, then the preferences of the candidates with the lowest vote are distributed until a majority is achieved.
Given the existence of a preferential system, a lot of analysis including most polls present data in two party preferred terms between the Labor Party and the Liberal/National Party coalition. This creates two major problems.
First, in an increasing number of seats - I have not counted them exactly, but I think that it is around 17 of the 93 assembly seats - the candidate with the second highest votes does not in fact come from either of the major blocks. This makes the standard two party preferred approach misleading.
Secondly, in an optional preferential system the changing number of electors who either do not put in preferences (this exhausts their vote) or if they do put in preferences do not follow the party line can have dramatic impacts on the final results in individual seats. This does not matter in an aggregate sense when, as in this case, the final results are clear. However, it can be very important in close elections.
Turning now to outcomes.
At the 2003 elections, Labor won 55 of the 93 seats. They finally ended this election with 52 seats, so down three. As late as last Wednesday the ALP still hoped to get 53-54 seats, so final counting went against them.
All Labor's losses came outside Sydney.
In the Lower Hunter they finally managed to hold off the independent challenge in Newcastle and Maitland, although it was line ball in Newcastle for some time. However, they lost Lake Macquarie to the independent, Port Stephens to the Liberal Party. Elsewhere. they lost Tweed and Murray-Darling to the National Party.
The Liberal Party
At the 2003 elections, the Liberal Party won 20 seats. They ended this election with 22 seats, so up two. They regained Pittwater, a seat they lost in a by-election following 2003 so counted as one of their 2003 seats, defeated the independent sitting member in Manly and gained Port Stephens.
At the 2003 elections, the Nationals won 12 seats. The Party then had one seat abolished in the redistribution and faced major challenges from independents, so the Nationals were in a degree of trouble. They ended the election with 13 seats, gaining Tweed and Murray-Darling from Labor. Importantly, while the Party failed to win independent seats back, they also withstood independent challenges in the seats they did hold.
At the 2003 election, independents won 6 seats, 2 in Sydney, 4 in the bush. This increased to 10 seats by election night with one by-election win plus defections They ended this election still with 6 seats.
With the exception of Clover Moore in the seat of Sydney itself, all the Sydney independents went down. Outside Sydney, the position was far more complex.
Independent candidates mounted major challenges in the Lower Hunter seats to Labor, to the Nationals in Barwon and the Liberals in Goulburn. These challenges failed with the exception of Lake Macquarie. However, the independents also held off all challenges in the seats they held elsewhere in the state, although the Nationals came close to defeating them in Dubbo. The net result was a one seat increase outside Sydney.
The future of the independent movement is interesting. Outside Sydney, they have in some ways consolidated their position as a natural country alternative to the National Party especially in that party's New England heartland. However, they have also not been able to extend their reach.
Finally, the Greens. They ran candidates in all 93 seats, increased their vote slightly, and will gain increased upper house representation. But the big question, as it was in Victoria, was the Party's capacity now or in the future to break through in terms of lower house seats. Here I do not think that the signs are hopeful for the Greens.
To test this, I went through all 93 seats to identify seats where the Greens scored more than 10 per cent of the vote. I do not pretend the following analysis is either rigorous or error free. It is just a quick test.
The Greens gained more than 10 per cent of the vote in 24 of the 93 seats. I
The Party scored more than 25 per cent of the primary vote in two seats, both inner city:
- Marrickville 33 per cent, coming second after the ALP (47 per cent) with the Liberal Party on 13 per cent.
- Balmain 30 per cent, coming second after the ALP (39 per cent) with the Liberal Party on 24 per cent.
The Party scored between 20 and 25 per cent of the primary vote in four seats:
- Coogee 21 per cent, coming third after ALP (39 per cent) and the Liberals (36 per cent)
- Ballina 20 per cent, coming third after National (53 per cent) and the ALP (24 per cent)
- Heffron 20 per cent, coming third after the ALP (56 per cent) and the Liberal Party (22 per cent)
- Vaucluse 20 per cent, coming equal second with the ALP (also 20 per cent) and behind the Liberal Part (60 per cent)
Heffron is inner Sydney, while Coogee and Vaucluse are both Sydney Eastern Suburbs. Ballina is a New England seat in the north east corner of NSW.
The Party scored between 15 and 20 per cent of the primary vote in five seats:
- Lismore 18 per cent, coming third after the National Party (54 per cent) and the ALP (26 per cent)
- North Shore 18 per cent, coming equal second with the ALP (also 18 per cent) and behind the Liberal Party (53 per cent)
- Blue Mountains 16 per cent, coming third after the ALP (41 per cent) and the Liberal Party (28 per cent)
- Sydney 16 per cent, coming fourth after independent (40 per cent), Liberal Party 22 per cent and the ALP (20 per cent)
- Lane Cove 15 per cent, coming third after the Liberal Party (52 per cent) and the ALP (24 per cent)
From this point the Green vote tails away. There were 13 seats with a vote between 11 and 15, a solid number in the range 7-10 per cent, then the vote falls away especially in outer Sydney areas and country NSW.
These numbers scope the challenge facing the Greens.
The Green vote is high enough to give them upper house seats. However, their strong lower house vote is especially concentrated in two relatively small areas, the inner suburbs of Sydney with a smaller concentration on the far north coast.
In the first they seem to appeal especially to a generally younger, left of center metro group that forms a much higher proportion of the population than elsewhere and would otherwise have voted Labor or Democrat. The far north coast is a little different. This an area where environmental issues have been important and is also the original heart of the counter culture movement.
There is an interesting dichotomy here. Intuitively, you would expect these drivers to also affect, if to a lesser extent, the Green vote elsewhere on the New England coastline and on the Tablelands especially around Armidale. However, this is also independent heartland. My rough check of the figures suggests that the independents have been able to capture a significant part of the vote that would otherwise have gone Green.
The Greens face another problem as well. To get lower house seats in their core areas, they need second preferences. On the surface, they might have won Balmain this time with Liberal preferences. Here they face an enormous problem in terms of the attitudes of their members and supporters as well as views in other parties about deals with the Greens.
These problems won't go away. In the absence of some as yet undefined change, they mean that the chances of the Greens actually winning lower house seats do not appear high.