Two things to watch as Dominic Perrottet tries to defy the odds of politics

Mr Perrottet has less than a month until voters deliver a verdict on his government.

Mr Perrottet has less than a month until voters deliver a verdict on his government. Photo: AAP

It’s unlikely Dominic Perrottet would appreciate either example one long-time colleague raises when asked if the New South Wales Premier could take his government to an improbable fourth term at next month’s election.

Scott Morrison, (a bitter Liberal rival who famously called the Premier a “f—wit” on a COVID teleconference) provides his baseline.

At 8 per cent, the swing against Scott Morrison in his seat of Cook on the night he lost the prime ministership in May is the worst even a newish premier holding together a government wracked by scandal could do on polling day.

“Is he as disliked? Definitely not. But he’s also not nearly as known,” the source explains. 

The yardstick is not entirely rhetorical. The government’s fate depends on holding a clutch of seats in suburban Sydney that are sitting on margins of between 6 and 7 points; if the government can hold onto those and keep below the Morrison line then it might stand a chance.

But starting as the leader of a minority government two votes shy of a floor majority in the lower house, he would have to defy gravity to pull it off. 

The only person with less room for error is Chris Minns – a life-long Labor voter whose career as a staffer was interrupted to be a firefighter and stay-at-home dad but who holds his own seat of Kogarah at a margin of just 0.1 per cent.

At 43, he’s three years older than the Premier and has an outwardly relaxed manner and photogenic quality that Mr Perrottet does not.

Had the Liberals succeeded in a plan to recruit NRL star Josh Mansour to run against him then Minns could have been in for a very early night.

But tight polls now suggest a March 25 election may not be decided until days later.

A new man

Mr Perrottet comes from the far-right faction of the NSW Liberals, and previously praised Donald Trump and mocked the display of the Aboriginal flag on the Harbour Bridge.

But he has done much better at moving to the centre and the public aspects of leadership and interacting with the public than one former school friend had ever expected.

But the Liberal MP believes the Premier with a contained personal style may have inadvertently endeared himself to the electorate, in a way that reminds him of another former prime minister.

In early January, an anguished Mr Perrottet called a press conference to confess to having worn a Nazi uniform to his 21st birthday party in a tense and strange press conference.

The Liberal MP says the scandal has been an inadvertent positive for the Premier, or a Kevin Rudd-like moment, referring to when the then-soon-to-be PM was revealed to have paid a visit to a New York City strip club years earlier.

The news caused him to receive his then-highest personal approval rating in the next Roy Morgan poll. 

A poll out on Monday shows the Premier taking a slight lead over Labor leader Chris Minns, but not enough evidence to test the theory that the scandal might have helped this rise.

In any case, in an election not being fought across a gulf of policy or ideology, image could well count. 

Cost of living registers as voters’ main concern and the government has forked out subsidies for school supplies and power bills.

Mr Minns has been building a profile on talkback and regional media to appeal to more conservative voters, but also watching scandals pile up.

Macquarie Street brawl

Mr Perrottet’s brothers are currently being sought by private detectives seeking to subpoena them for a parliamentary inquiry where they will be asked about an allegation they had sought $50,000 cash to run a campaign to bring down the former immigration minister Alex Hawke, as part of a plot to take revenge for Tony Abbott’s ouster as prime minister.

One MP quit this month after he was revealed to have circulated pornographic images of another candidate during a Liberal Party preselection contest.

Mr Perrottet raised a glass to his Transport Minister (who brought the Nazi uniform photo to his attention) at the parliament’s off-the-record Christmas party and said he had been a fine opposition leader, Sky News revealed last week.

Where the factional brawl in the Liberal Party goes next could also be electorally decisive.

But it is not enough yet to guarantee a Labor victory, with polling showing neither party with a particularly strong primary vote. 

“Neither side is quite in a position to form a majority,” election analyst Ben Raue said. 

That means the next premier would need to win power on the floor of parliament and from what would likely be a mix of independents and Greens.

“I think Labor will have more friends to work with.”

Stay informed, daily
A FREE subscription to The New Daily arrives every morning and evening.
The New Daily is a trusted source of national news and information and is provided free for all Australians. Read our editorial charter
Copyright © 2024 The New Daily.
All rights reserved.