By Michael Parris March 26 2023
The pressure will be on the Hunter’s new government MPs to deliver for the region after Labor swept to victory in the NSW election on Saturday night.
A 6.6 per cent swing to Labor will be enough to install Chris Minns as premier, either in a majority government or in minority with help from the crossbench.
Labor was on track on Saturday evening to gain the 47 seats required to form government in its own right, but it remained unclear if it would achieve that number.
All nine of the Hunter’s incumbent MPs are poised to hold their seats, though Upper Hunter Nationals representative Dave Layzell said it was too early for him to claim victory.
“Unless we get the Singleton booth two-party-preferred tonight and it’s very clear, I think we will have to wait until those preferences come through on Monday,” he said.
Labor comfortably retained all seven of its Hunter seats, some with increased margins, and five of those sitting members hold shadow portfolios.
The swing in the Hunter was 6.6 per cent, slightly below the Sydney swing and slightly below the swing in more remote regional areas.
Shadow minister for the Hunter Yasmin Catley said on Saturday night that Mr Minns had not confirmed if she, Tim Crakanthorp, Jodie Harrison, Jenny Aitchison and Kate Washington would retain their portfolios in government.
Ms Catley said the Hunter had been “neglected for so long”.
“Now we’ve been elected, it’s our role now to advocate strongly for the Hunter and to make sure that a Labor government delivers,” she said.
“We’re a big bloc with seven and we’re so committed to our region and we will work hard to ensure we deliver.”
Ms Catley said voters had “unequivocally rejected” the Coalition’s “agenda of privatisation, sending jobs offshore and running down the education system”.
Only one Hunter Labor MP, Sonia Hornery, has served in government after Labor spent 12 years in the electoral wilderness.
Leading lobby groups such as Business Hunter and Committee for the Hunter have railed against the Coalition government for withholding key infrastructure investment in the region.
Labor promised during the campaign to build a new high school at Medowie by 2027 and committed to another high school at the Huntlee housing estate near Branxton.
It also pledged $21 million for sand renourishment at Stockton, vowed to form a Hunter clean energy transition authority, promised dredging for Swansea channel and committed to re-establishing a Hunter ministry.
Mr Minns also said a Labor government would establish one of three new manufacturing centres of excellence at a Hunter TAFE campus.
Business Hunter chief executive Bob Hawes said on Saturday night that he hoped some of the Hunter MPs gained ministries and cabinet positions under Mr Minns.
“I also welcome back the prospect of a Minister for the Hunter and the focus that role can bring given the diverse needs and ambition of the region,” he said.
“We have lots of work to do and the next four years are going to be a critical time for the region and the state.
“The asks from the region are very clear, and we look forward to working with the new government and collaborate to achieve our respective objectives.”
The vote delivered some woeful results for the Liberals and Nationals in the Hunter after another a lacklustre campaign which focused mostly on the marginal electorate of Upper Hunter.
The Nationals’ disendorsed Cessnock candidate, Ash Barnham, was polling fourth in the primary count on just 11 per cent of the vote, behind One Nation’s Quintin King on 14.7 per cent and Legalise Cannabis’ Andrew Fenwick on 13.5 per cent.
Labor MP Jodie Harrison was heading to a 7 per cent swing in her favour against Lake Macquarie Liberal councillor Jack Antcliff.
The Liberals drafted in Joshua Beer from Sydney to contest Lake Macquarie and won just 8.5 per cent of the primary vote.
Independent MP Greg Piper was on track to maintain most of his 23-point margin against Labor’s Steve Ryan.
But the resounding victory for Labor could deny Mr Piper the opportunity to hold the balance of power in the lower house as part of the three-man independent bloc which has propped up the minority Coalition government.
Ms Aitchison was also poised to extend her margin in Maitland beyond 20 percentage points after a 6 per cent swing in her favour.
The Liberals’ Michael Cooper won less than 20 per cent of the vote in a seat they held eight years ago.
Mr Crakanthorp was heading for a margin above 20 per cent after a strong result against the Liberals’ former German army officer Thomas Triebsees.
The Greens failed to gain ground in Newcastle, a seat they had suggested they could flip in the next four years.
It will be back to the drawing board for Greens candidate John Mackenzie and the party after he recorded a disappointing 19.1 per cent of the primary vote.
Ms Washington stormed to victory in Port Stephens, taking her seat out of marginal territory to a 20-point advantage after a huge 15-point swing against Liberal candidate Nathan Errington.
Port Stephens is another seat the Liberals held as recently as 2015.
Ms Catley also was on track to enjoy a strong swing in her favour, and Wallsend’s Sonia Hornery, the custodian of the safest Labor seat in NSW, could emerge with an even larger margin of victory beyond 30 percentage points.
Liberal parliamentary secretary for the Hunter Taylor Martin thanked the party’s volunteers.
“I’m really happy to see that Dave Layzell is looking strong in Upper Hunter,” he said.
“We’ll take time to review and consider the reasons for the loss of government so that we are in a strong position in four years’ time.”