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Labor upended by Nationals' unlikely Upper Hunter win

Labor leader Jodi McKay speaking at a press conference after the Upper Hunter loss

Despite the fact that the Upper Hunter by-election was brought about by a sex scandal involving the previous Nationals member, the Nationals retained the seat with a swing to them of 4.2 per cent.

As NSW state Labor leader Jodi McKay said after the poll:

"We have to make sure we do better.
"We have to make this region know it is a Labor region in the future.
"We have two years to prove to the Upper Hunter that we are a party that deserves their support."

Labor’s campaign was derailed at the last minute when Chris Bowen appeared to oppose the construction of a new gas-fired power station at Kurri Kurri by Snowy Hydro. Mr Bowen seemed to misunderstand the regional politics of the issue, which was seen as critical because it would guarantee the continued operation of the Tomago aluminium plant. Tomago is a major employer in the Hunter region.

The federal member for Hunter, Joel Fitzgibbon and his Hunter Valley colleagues realised the mistake but their distancing from Chris Bowen came too late.

The shock for Labor came when they realised that on these results, they could lose three federal seats in the Hunter region.

Labor would also have been shocked by the results of Nine Media Resolve poll that was conducted last week. This showed the Coalition leading Labor by 39 per cent to 35 per cent on the primary vote. Of more concern would have been the electorate's opinion of the parties on key policy areas.

The budget scored well, with 56 per cent rating it very good or good for the country as a whole, with a mere 10 per cent rated it bad or very bad, the remainder being either neutral or undecided. Thirty-five per cent felt it would be very good or good for their household finances, compared with 17 per cent for bad or very bad.

On the issue of an early election, 59 per cent of voters were opposed to an early election while only 17 per cent were in favour.

More interestingly the poll found that the Coalition was ahead of the Opposition on health and aged care, education and social policies, areas that have traditionally been Labor strong points. The poll shows that Scott Morrison is making greater inroads into Labor’s core constituency of blue-collar voters than Malcolm Turnbull.

Over the weekend, Labor frontbenchers were trying to whitewash the Upper Hunter loss.

Deputy leader Richard Marles said that it showed that state governments were being rewarded for their work on the pandemic and aged care spokesperson Clare O’Neil said the election was about state matters and had no relevance to the federal situation.

However, given Gladys Berejiklian and John Barilaro had to contend with the fact that the previous member was in trouble over allegations of sexual assault and a minister in the NSW government was under investigation over an allegation of sexual assault, the result is evidence that the NSW Labor electoral machine is not functioning well.

This same machine will have to hold and win seats for Labor if Anthony Albanese is to form a government.

It may be time for the leader to do a bit of renovation.


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