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Liberals set to relinquish record reign at NSW election

New South Wales is on the verge of ending a record run of Liberal rule as voters begin casting their votes in the state election.

Both major parties dug in for the final day of campaigning on Sunday before pre-poll begins and six days out from the official election day on Saturday.

In the absence of published research, both parties have cast themselves as likely to fall short of government in their own right in a race likely to be decided by the crossbench.

But one Labor source told The New Daily that the party’s research showed the Opposition gaining on the government and with a slender floor majority in the Legislative Assembly within his reach.

“The swing is on,” they said.

Another party source said this interpretation of the figures was “generous” and the result was not likely to be known on election night.

Record streak

What neither party disputes is that the state Liberal government looks likely to fall short of winning a fourth term on its own steam. But it also increasingly seems like the Coalition will struggle to present a viable option if negotiations about forming government are decided by the crossbench.

Labor needs nine more seats to win government and end a record period of nearly 12 years of Liberal rule; Premier Dominic Perrottet last year quietly eclipsed the 11-year record set under the government first led by Bob Askin from 1965 to 1975.

Combined with a nine-year term of the federal government (one endorsed by a slim majority of voters, though not in a majority of seats) it made for an unprecedented shutout for what had historically been Labor’s most favourable state.

The difference in interpretation within Labor’s senior ranks comes down to how a state-wide trend will translate across the 11 target seats the party is targeting for victory.

They range from East Hills (0.1), which the Coalition has twice defended in the face of state-wide swings much greater than its tiny margin, to the seat of South Coast, which is on the largest margin in Labor’s shortlist (10.6 per cent), a seat where a long-serving MP is retiring.

State leader Chris Minns and Anthony Albanese targeted the seat of Balmain on Friday, a seat with deep historical resonance for the party, lost to the Greens in 2011 and resting on a margin of 10 points, but news the Liberals would preference the minor party has checked some hopes.

The Liberals face a similar challenge from community independent or “teal” candidates in five seats (Pittwater, Manly, Lane Cove, North Shore and Wollondilly) but a spat over election ads and signs has potentially added complications.

One well-placed source said community independents would likely negotiate with both sides and would feel “some pressure” to side with the Coalition.

“But the Libs aren’t making it easy,” they said.

The Liberals spent the weekend sandbagging the seat of Penrith, which is held by 0.6 per cent by former minister Stuart Ayres who, with his partner federal shadow cabinet secretary Marise Payne, is a factional heavyweight in the Liberals’ moderate wing.

Mr Ayres was not acting at “arm’s length” as trade minister when the department of the public service he was administering awarded former deputy premier John Barilaro a New York posting, an inquiry found.

But Mr Perrottet has promised to bring him back into cabinet if re-elected. And former prime minister John Howard said he had been the “epitome of a good minister” while speaking at a Liberal rally in the seat, at which he delivered a swipe at Labor.

“One of the things that struck me about the launch of the Labor Party campaign for Chris Minns was the overwhelming presence of Anthony Albanese,” he said.

“It was almost as if it was a mini launch of the re-elect Anthony Albanese campaign.”

Wanted to be there

Mr Albanese said on Friday the absence of federal Liberal leader Peter Dutton from the campaign trail had been “remarkable”.

Mr Dutton had not been present at Mr Perrottet’s election launch, in what some interpreted as a reflection on his relative lack of popularity.

But it was revealed this weekend Mr Dutton had turned out to support the government’s re-election bid, albeit with an off-Broadway appearance.

“I really wanted to be there with you in person and to wish Matt and the whole team all the very best,” Mr Dutton said in a video message at the launch of Treasurer Matt Kean’s campaign in Hornsby.

“We need Liberal economic management at a state and federal level like never before,” Mr Dutton said.

The closed-door videolink address to a couple of hundred Liberal diehards at an RSL in a seat on a margin of 17 per cent is not likely to answer the critics who say Mr Dutton is too unpopular for mainstream electoral success.

But Mr Dutton’s emergence at a function for Mr Kean, a centrist reviled in the Murdoch media and accused of undermining former prime minister Scott Morrison, did fuel other speculation.

Mr Kean would “seriously consider” throwing his hat into the ring for federal politics one party source said.

Winning over Mr Dutton could help in any preselection contest that would need support from conservatives (a Senate spot is currently open and will be voted on after Easter).

A source close to Mr Kean poured cold water on the speculation: “Not happening and not interested,” the source said.

Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockliff would lead the nation’s only Liberal government if Mr Perrottet does not win a fourth term on Saturday.

After John Howard’s Coalition government lost office in 2007, then-Brisbane lord mayor Campbell Newman was the most senior elected Liberal official in the nation.

By 2014 the wheel had turned almost entirely and conservative state governments reigned (except in South Australia) before the next year when Mr Newman, then as premier of Queensland, was voted out and on the cusp of a trend heading in the opposite direction.

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