The NSW Liberals are unravelling in the face of growing scandals, with polls showing Labor comfortably ahead as the state election approaches on 25 March.
There have been signs of real discontent with the Liberals after 12 years in power.
Last year saw a wave of public sector strikes as accumulated bitterness was finally brought to a head following the peak of the COVID crisis. Teachers, train drivers and nurses, who were hailed as “frontline heroes” during the pandemic, faced nothing but pay cuts, understaffing and the rising cost of living on the other side of COVID-19 lockdowns.
The strikes were the biggest in a decade in NSW. But instead of escalating the fight and breaking the NSW Liberals, union officials wound down the strikes and are focusing on an electoral campaign to elect Labor.
New anti-protest laws have seen climate activists, like Violet Coco, facing serious jail time.
Liberals’ civil war
Scott Morrison’s right-wing Liberal government went down in flames at the 2022 Federal election, damaged by the rise of teal independents who won a swath of formerly safe Liberal seats.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has sought to give his election campaign a progressive sheen as part of a strategy to neutralise the threat of the teals at a state level.
He has announced a gambling reform package that would introduce cashless poker machines, allowing gamblers to limit their spending via cashless cards, as well as funding for clubs and venues to reduce their reliance on pokies.
He broke ranks with Peter Dutton’s Federal opposition to support the Indigenous Voice to Parliament and has pleaded with Liberal Party branches to address the party’s appalling lack of female candidates. This has been mostly ignored, aside from a deal to add two more women to the party’s upper house ticket.
But these moves have been a bridge too far for the right of the party.
Perrottet was supposed to be their champion. When Donald Trump won the 2016 Presidential election Perrottet hailed it as a “victory” for conservative “values”. Now, his lean to the left has provoked a vicious right-wing backlash amongst some of his former allies.
In January Perrottet had to apologise for wearing a Nazi costume at his 21st birthday party. The apology came after transport minister David Elliott called Perrottet, informing him there were plans to use the story about the Nazi costume against him.
Elliott told the media, “Political rivals knew about the costume and everyone, including the premier’s own staff, had heard the rumour that someone was planning to use it against him”.
The Liberals have also been dogged by revelations of corruption and other scandals.
The most high profile was the case of former deputy premier John Barilaro, who was given a $500,000 per year “jobs for the boys” appointment to a plum US trade role.
The factional bloodbath inside the Liberals means “dirt files” are being dug up to sink factional rivals, exposing the rotten underbelly of the party.
In February trade minister Damien Tudehope resigned after it was discovered he held shares in Transurban, who have profited from the toll roads built under the Liberals. In the same week Peter Poulos was dumped from the party’s upper house ticket over circulating explicit images of a female Liberal MP in 2021.
Minns offers little
Labor leader Chris Minns is hoping to coast into power while offering precious little change. Even on gambling reform Minns is unwilling to match what the Liberals are putting forward, positioning himself to the right of Perrottet.
On the cost of living Labor says it will scrap the public sector wage cap, but has given no indication of what kind of pay rise it might offer nurses or teachers. All Minns has said is that wage increases have to be offset by “productivity gains”, meaning workers will have to sacrifice conditions for higher pay.
Amid high inflation, climbing interest rates and with cost of living topping voters’ concerns, all Minns has put forward is a modest $60 cap on road tolls.
While he has followed Victoria’s Daniel Andrews with a plan for a publicly-owned renewable energy company, its $1 billion of funding is modest and relies on private sector partnerships.
The Greens are campaigning on demands for a rent freeze and free public transport, and backing real pay rises for public sector workers. They are expected to hold their three lower house seats and could take three seats in the upper house.
It will be a welcome development if the Liberals are booted out of their last mainland state government. But it is going to take a renewed union campaign of strikes and protests to win the pay rises, staffing and funding increases needed in hospitals, schools and the wider public sector.
By Adam Adelpour