Mining boss denies intimidating pre-election call

Chris Minns becomes 47th premier of NSW

With Labor leader Chris Minns on the verge of claiming a majority government in NSW’s Legislative Assembly, a debate about the next leader of the Liberals is underway.

The choices are indivisible from the question of where the NSW election campaign went wrong and what the future direction of the party should be – questions some say are very clearly loaded.

The most likely Liberal opposition leader, Treasurer Matt Kean, ruled himself out on Sunday night.

Few Liberal strategists thought outright victory was ever anything but an outside chance in an election where the party had an unprecedented 12 years in power, and was starting with a minority government.

But commentators on election night were sheeting home the loss to Mr Kean, whom federal Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce said was “baggage” and would be a “huge issue” for the Coalition if appointed.

To his critics, Mr Kean and the powerful moderate faction he represents are responsible for an emissions reduction policy that put NSW on a more ambitious transition to net zero than the federal government and which they say would damage the economy.

It’s a stance that has long earned him scorching criticism from commentators aligned to the party’s hard right such as Peta Credlin.

But some within the Liberal party room are asking whether this round of criticism has a co-ordinated quality.

Categorically denied

Mr Kean confided in a colleague over Christmas that another government policy, to cap the price of coal at $125 a tonne, had been the subject of a conversation with a NSW mining industry honcho.

The Treasurer recalled the head of the NSW Minerals Council phoning to call him a “f–kwit” and warning of consequences in a conversation he described as having an intimidating tone.

“I categorically deny having said any such thing to the Treasurer,” said Stephen Galilee, the boss of the NSW Minerals Council.

Mr Kean’s account of the conversation came back to mind for those close to the Treasurer in the final week of the campaign, when a string of unpublished polling sourced to an industry group began to get a heavy run on Sky News.

The polling forecast that the election would turn on a huge swing to One Nation driven by voters’ anger at the Liberal government’s progressive environmental and social policies appears to have been seriously overplayed, with the party recording a swing of about 0.6 per cent – or the same as the Greens.

The polling claimed One Nation and the Liberal Democrats would secure a 20-point share of the primary vote even in Mr Kean’s own (leafy, well-educated) seat of Hornsby, but counting has them on only about half as much.

A similar narrative about a surging vote for right-wing minor parties delivering a Labor government ran through much of Sky’s pre-election and election night coverage.

“One Nation has come in from the cold,” former Liberal MP Bronwyn Bishop said.

One Liberal claimed the wild swings in the research had been recorded because pollsters had primed respondents with questions presenting Mr Kean as responsible for recent rises in energy prices, and said the research had been funded by the NSW Minerals Council.

“I won’t be commenting on any polls,” Mr Galilee said.

Payback from wayback?

The Liberal campaign was not without faults, insiders said, despite some research showing that Mr Perrottet increased his popularity as the campaign drew on.

Former premier Mike Baird said Mr Perrotett had “fought this battle with two hands behind his back”, as some within the Liberal Party sought to settle scores.

TND understands much of the disruption came from within the premier’s own conservative faction of the Liberals.

Scandals mounted for Mr Perrottet in the government’s dying days, including one that forced out his closest ally in Parliament, former finance minister Damien Tudehope, whose family superannuation fund was revealed to have a small holding in a company that ran the state’s toll roads. 

Mr Perrottet last year used his numbers to back a move against his long-time ally and former Liberal senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, who lost preselection to the federal Senate – sparking a backlash within his own support base about a deal with then prime minister Scott Morrison.

The former senator famously gave Mr Morrison a serve in a speech to the Senate a year ago, but she also called Mr Perrottet “a supine and weak state leader” whom she said had perpetrated “the ultimate act of treachery”. 

With one week to go, senior Liberal Party cabinet ministers had resigned their hopes of winning, unless there was an unforeseen and dramatic turn of events.

They no longer took comfort in the party’s nightly tracking poll, which put it within reach in a contest running at well within the margin of error.

Locally-focused research and MPs’ observations picked up a different story, one with a starker conclusion in seats such as Wollondilly, South Coast and Monaro, where the party realised it had been caught wrong-footed.

Polling and most of the election coverage had missed the trend.

Sky News has been contacted for comment.

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