After three terms in power, the Liberal-National coalition government in New South Wales appears to be on shaky ground, falling behind in the polls and currently operating without a parliamentary majority.
With two weeks to go until the election, there’s still a chance of the Coalition or Labor forming majority or minority government – although a Coalition majority appears least likely.
There are also a number of key contests involving independents or minor parties, adding further complexity.
So what will it take to win the election? And what happens if neither side wins a majority?
Where are we starting from?
The Coalition won 48 of the 93 seats at the 2019 election to form a narrow majority, but has since seen that fall to 45 thanks to byelections and MPs moving to the crossbench.
Labor won 36 seats in 2019, gaining a 37th at the Bega byelection, while a redistribution has also flipped the Liberal seat of Heathcote to be a notional Labor seat. This means Labor needs to pick up nine more to win a majority in its own right.
Nine crossbenchers were elected in 2019: three Greens, three members of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party (who are now independents) and three other independents. The former Liberal minister Gareth Ward is also contesting this election as an independent.
If neither major party can get to 47 seats, it is the crossbench who will determine the next premier.
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How can Labor win a majority?
The nine most vulnerable Coalition seats are held on margins of 6.3% or less against Labor. Swings are rarely uniform, though – it’s possible some slightly safer seats could fall on larger swings while more marginal seats don’t change hands.
There are 16 Coalition seats on margins of less than 11% against Labor. While these seats are dotted all over the state, a large number of them lie in an arc that curves through western Sydney, with the ends of the arc extending into the eastern half of Sydney. This arc stretches from Oatley, East Hills and Holsworthy, through Camden, Badgerys Creek and Penrith, and then stretching to Riverstone, Winston Hills, Parramatta, Epping and Ryde.
The most marginal seats are East Hills, Upper Hunter and Penrith, all held by less than a 1% margin. Goulburn is slightly less marginal, with a Liberal margin of 3.1%.
Labor has been leading in recent polls, but not by an overwhelming margin. Recent polls have given Labor a statewide margin of 2-3%, which would be a swing of 4-5%. That would probably net Labor a number of extra seats, but may not be enough to win a majority.
So we could be headed for a hung parliament?
There is a high chance of a hung parliament at this election. The large existing crossbench means the major parties either need to win back those seats or win a larger proportion of the remaining seats to win a majority.
A number of crossbench seats could be in play. Labor is challenging the Greens for their seat of Balmain (10.0%) after Jamie Parker became the first Greens member in a single-member electorate to retire. Parker was one of the first Greens members to win a lower house seat in a big mainland election in 2011, and we don’t yet have any experience of what happens when a long-term Greens MP retires. How much of the local Greens vote is personal to Parker, and how much can he pass on his support to his successor?
We also don’t have a good sense of how the former Shooters members will perform as independents. These three rural independents are facing election after their first full term in parliament, but now without the backing of a party. There are numerous other independents contesting the election, including five “teals” endorsed by Climate 200 contesting the seats of Lane Cove, Manly, North Shore, Pittwater and Wollondilly, and other independents who could also lay claim to the teal brand in other Liberal seats. The Northern Beaches mayor, Michael Regan, is contesting Wakehurst.
Is a Coalition majority possible?
The Coalition would need to pick up two seats to win a majority. This is not a big ask, but the polls at the moment suggest the swing is likely to go in the other direction.
What happens in a hung parliament?
It depends on the exact shape of the crossbench, and the relative positions of the major parties.
If one party gets much closer to a majority it will most likely govern, but if the result is closer the decision will come down to the crossbench.
We would probably see a “confidence and supply” agreement where some members of the crossbench agree to not vote for any no-confidence motions that could defeat the government and to pass the core of the government’s budget. In exchange, the incoming government may agree to certain policy concessions.
Who is the crossbench most likely to support?
The Greens are pretty much committed to supporting a Labor government, but many other crossbenchers could go either way.
Some could decide based on which party has a higher level of support (which could be measured in a number of ways) or to support the party willing to give them the best deal. A number of independents have identified gambling reforms as being necessary for their support, while others are making their key demands known. Of course, it’s possible the positions of the various crossbenchers could come into conflict.
If Labor fell just short of a majority, it could be in a position to choose whether to work with the Greens or more conservative independents. But if it has a bigger gap to fill, it might need to work with both the left and right flanks, and that would be more challenging.
The Coalition may have a better chance to win over the support of the rural independents such as Joe McGirr or the three former members of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party. The Coalition has also had a good relationship with more progressive independents Greg Piper and Alex Greenwich, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’d choose to go that way if there was another option.
All this means there is a significant chance we won’t know who the next premier of NSW is on election night.