Chris Minns’ massive gamble revealed as campaign enters final days

Can the New South Wales Labor leader Chris Minns count to nine?

The question was put to the Opposition Leader recently and which trails him in the final days of a campaign to lead Labor back into government after a record 12 years in the wilderness.

There is very little expectation that Premier Dominic Perrottet can lead his government to a fourth term on Saturday’s election day.

But Labor is yet to show that it can win in its own right, or say how it might credibly get to the nine seats it needs to do so.

Its strategy, a source reveals, is a carefully planned gamble on appealing to new constituencies that could make or break its path to a governing majority.

“The difference between a swing of four to five seats to us and a swing of 11 seats to us is not much at all,” the source said.

Level pegging

A state poll released on Monday found Labor on a swing of about 4.5 per cent, or a theoretical five-seat gain.

It needs 6.2 per cent – and nine seats to win government in its own right.

(Curiously,  the poll’s finding that the government had drawn level with Labor on primary vote share sent the odds of Mr Perrottet’s reelection spiraling.)

Mr Minns is better placed to form a minority government if he and Premier Dominic Perrottet both fall short but that might mean awkward negotiations with the Greens and a crushing victory for Labor in what had been its natural state.

Like most state elections this contest has been pitched as a battle for Sydney’s outer suburbs.

But aside from the main campaign Mr Minns has been trying to build a new and different electoral base that could hand him the premiership with no strings attached.

A promising start

On the opening day of the campaign’s final week Premier Dominic Perrottet was undeniably on the defensive in a seat the Liberals have lost only once since World War II and with a margin north of 10 per cent that extends far beyond the swings canvassed in polls. 

Of all its attempts to break new ground this election, Labor regards flipping the seat of South Coast as its best bet. And Mr Perrottet might too.

Demographic change driven by people moving to the coast for a sea change is working in the ALP’s favour allowing it to replicate a campaign that allowed it to grind out close wins in two recent federal elections for the seat of Gilmore against high-profile challengers. 

Other seats on lower margins like Penrith (0.6) should notionally be a cinch by comparison but expectations of flipping it are lower and on part with others such as Oatley (6.8) per cent and possibly Riverstone (6.2 per cent).

State elections are local contests with political microclimates; one or two each election are often bolters that upend expectations.

One Liberal seat also in the regions has been just that in past elections, Goulburn (3.1 per cent) and is part of the party’s massive advertising spend in the regional television market of southern NSW.

Perhaps its most audacious play is the seat of Upper Hunter, coal mining country in the state’s Hunter Valley.

Mr Minns caught attention earlier this month by saying he might be open to acquiring the state’s biggest coal-fired power plant, Eraring, to stave off a supply shortfall, which was pitched squarely at the seat and testing the government environmentalism.

The second plank of its pitch to the regions is to lift the public sector wage cap and draw better teachers and nurses to NSW, which it is staking against a campaign standby of hospital infrastructure upgrades.

The seat is on a margin of 0.5 per cent, but is not Labor’s natural operating environment, and the party lost ground in a by-election from Opposition in 2021.

One Nation has declined to field a candidate giving the ALP a berth in what might otherwise be a match up between it and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers.

Labor is directing preferences to the Shooters in 15 seats in what it says is a bid to freeze out One Nation, led by former federal Labor leader Mark Latham.

Musical chairs

As voters lose their sense of loyalty to political parties and demographics change, state parties have all been playing politics as musical chairs as a matter of survival and future growth.

During the course of the current Coalition government, the Greens have pinched heartland seats from Labor in Sydney’s inner-west but also from the Nationals in the state’s north as voters grew angry about encroaching coal seam gas exploration.

The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers won three seats by accusing the Nationals of neglecting its base and those criticisms of the party have grown louder recently including by a former MP now running against it after she quit because of what she said had been a transactional culture under Mr Barilaro.

Its party room has since blown with former MPs set to take different sides in a hung Parliament over Mr Minns’ position on curbing poker machine gambling, which critics lash as weak and half-hearted.

The National Party’s state director, Joe Lundy, declined to comment.

Since he assumed the party leadership in 2021 Mr Minns has been strategically committed to this week’s punt and the party has been quietly running an ad campaign that targets messages to voters down to their postcode.

One ad featuring Mr Minns chatting to his wife, Anna, on the couch was created almost solely for women voters aged under 55 in the seat of Tweed (5 per cent) a rare suburban Nationals seat also on Labor’s radar.


But perhaps the tallest order is John Barilaro’s old seat of Monaro, which was for the longest time a knife-edge proposition from election to election until he proved a remarkably popular local member.

Monaro was once a bellwether seat of state politics: as it went so did, often, NSW.

But the National Party and John Barilaro, its former representative, have built out that margin to a notional 11 points, which fell to 4.5 per cent at a by-election triggered by Mr Barilaro’s resignation from politics before he had become a figure of public scandal known for a cushy New York sinecure he had to quit amid public outrage.

But Labor’s first candidate, NRL player Terry Campese had to withdraw from the seat after photos of his colourful house parties were leaked to the media in a calculated hit.

Mr Barilaro hung up the phone when The New Daily asked whether Nationals voters might have been put off by the party’s performance in government.

For Labor it’s worth a shot but the final verdict is still out.

“There’s always a cloud of uncertainty around these (state polls),” says Ben Raue an election analyst.

“Probably at the moment, it’s more likely it’ll be a hung Parliament but a majority is absolutely still on the table.”

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