Can Luke Foley can deliver a miracle win for the ALP?

If you live outside of NSW but have business interests in the state you probably know that the Labor Party got belted with the proverbial baseball bat in 2011. Since then the corruption watchdog has caught out several former Labor politicians, before the Premier Barry O’Farrell resigned over the relatively minor scandal of receiving a bottle of Grange. What then followed was a long line of Liberals caught up in donation scandals also investigated by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). So we have a relatively new Premier in Mike Baird, a clean cut popular son of former NSW Minister Bruce Baird and Opposition Leader Luke Foley who has been at the helm just three months.

You are probably wondering if Luke Foley can deliver a miracle win as happened in Queensland. News Ltd has already called it a Coalition win for Mike Baird. And if you look at the polls – and more importantly, developments over the last month – it is highly unlikely that Foley can do it. This election is being fought on two key policies. Mike Baird wants to lease for 99 years 51% of our electricity poles and wires network, while Labor is opposed to it even though two former Premiers have tried to do exactly that. He is also targeting seats in northern NSW by banning coal seam gas mining. Greenies and farmers are vehemently opposed to coal seam gas.

LNP-ALP combined

Labor thinks the anti-electricity privatisation campaign is biting and will assist narrow the polls which on average has Labor trailing 47/53 on a two-party preferred basis. After a redistribution of seats by the NSW Electoral Commission and several by-elections Labor needs to win 23 seats and a State-wide swing of 14.7% to form a majority government. Green preferences will swing strongly to Labor this time after a deal in most seats. (It should be remembered that it is optional preferential in NSW)

Issues at Play

NSW Labor is again using a highly successful campaign strategy, used to great effect in Victoria based on the United States Democrats’ model. This is a grassroots campaign that includes a big volunteer network conducting phone canvassing and door-knocking. The Labor Party has also outspent the Coalition on media advertising thanks to big donations from the union movement. The internal attacks on Prime Minister Tony Abbott did not help Campbell Newman – the guns have gone silent in recent weeks which no doubt has helped Mike Baird.

It is a common view that a parliamentary leader needs at least 12 months to build a profile and that’s even harder when you are in opposition. There are plenty of people on the street who don’t even know who Luke Foley is and that feeds in to the trust issue. How can we trust him if we don’t even know him?

Labor Party polling has shown for some time that the electorate is opposed to electricity privatisation so that’s why at every announcement Luke Foley mentions it, although he was unable to weave it in to his recent announcement about koala parks.

Mr Baird has staked his campaign on the 99-year lease of 51% of the poles and wires (it really is a sale, not a lease and not a recycling of assets) and the goodies that will bring with it which includes more toll roads. He has run a slicker media campaign with much better vision. He wants to get privatisation through but for the campaign is not keen to talk about it every day. What you see is what you get with Mr Baird – a nice person who had a successful career in banking before entering politics. His likeability rating is very high because he is genuine, not a manufactured political figure. Politicians of this genre include Steve Bracks, John Howard and Bob Hawke.


To work out the seats in play just follow where the leaders are campaigning. The Premier has been spending plenty of time in western Sydney trying to hold on to seats in traditional Labor areas. In some of these seats Labor threw in the towel at the last election and redirected resources.2011 NSW Sydney Region

The Liberal Party is expecting to lose several seats on the Central Coast after five members stood down following investigations by ICAC. Along with Charlestown and Newcastle Labor is a good chance of winning Swansea, Maitland, Wyong, The Entrance and Gosford. There will be a strong swing in Terrigal – Chris Hartcher’s seat but the 23.6% margin should provide enough of a buffer Mr Hartcher has been on the cross-bench since appearing at ICAC. Labor is confident of winning Monaro ( National Party) by just 2%, along with East Hills – very marginal Liberal, Prospect and Granville which has been in Labor hands since 1935. In the St George area Labor should win Rockdale where they have a strong local candidate accountant Steve Kamper. In Oatley the Liberals have a strong candidate in former media executive Mark Coure and should hold despite the slim margin.

In the west Labor should win back Campbelltown, but former policeman Brian Doyle is an impressive local candidate and the seat is safer following a redistribution which favours the Liberals (Liberal 6.8%). I am adding Londonderry to Labor’s list with the retirement of Bart Bassett following his appearance at ICAC, but Stuart Ayres will hold Penrith going to the polls with a 16.4% margin.

Next door the Liberals should hold the Blue Mountains which is regarded as a bellweather seat. High profile candidate Jodi Mackay who formerly held the seat of Newcastle until she was undermined by her own party at the last election could win the seat of Strathfield. Labor is in front in Seven Hills and Holsworthy which are new seats with new boundaries.

In the south, Miranda is a hard one to work out, with Labor winning it back at a by-election with a massive 26% swing. Notionally it’s Labor by 3.5% but it could buck the trend and return to the Liberals. There are strong local issues at play, including overdevelopment.

Luke Foley has been spending a lot of time on the North Coast selling his anti-privatisation and coal seam gas policies. The seats in play Ballina (Nat 24.6%), Tweed (NAT 21.7%) and Lismore (NAT 24.3%) all have big margins, but clearly based on Federal figures and Labor’s polling they are in there view winnable. Labor held Tweed in 1999 and 2003. Labor is a chance in Ballina and Tweed, but long- standing local member Thomas George will be hard to dislodge in Lismore. The Labor/Green preference deal will help.


I can’t see Labor getting the 23 seats it needs to form a government. My very best is 14 which would leave the Coalition government with a comfortable majority. I think 12 seats more likely which would be a reasonable result for Luke Foley who has been at the helm for only a short time. That result would be a good majority for Mike Baird’s Coalition particularly when you consider he will have a big war chest for future infrastructure projects thanks to the electricity sell-off. I add the disclaimer that a week is a long time in politics and many people don’t make up their mind on voting intentions until late.

If you look at the Newspoll below – which is a few weeks old – you can see Labor steadily closing the gap from a landslide to within striking distance. The polls (which have a margin of error of at least one point either way) may narrow another point which puts Labor close but it looks like Mr Foley will run out of runway. Politically, there doesn’t appear to be a mood for change.

Newspoll/The Australian


Based on preference flow at March 2011 state election

Date Labor Coalition
26 March 2011 (Last Election) 35.8 64.2
January – February 2014 42 58
May – June 2014 43 57
July – August 2014 46 54
September – October 2014 45 55
November – December 2014 44 56
23-26 February 2015 46 54


(Average of latest polls Labor/Coalition two party preferred 47/53)

For more information and analysis go to ABC election analyst Antony Green’s blog.