A case for voting Labor in NSW?

Today’s Newspoll, as reported in The Australian, shows NSW Labor’s support at a catastrophic 24%, having hovered around a quarter since the middle of the year.

Certainly they deserve to lose.* But even as a Liberal supporter, I am not at all sure that a Labor wipe-out would be a good thing – and NSW’s own political history shows why.

After a modest defeat and loss of minority government in 1995, in 1999 the NSW Liberals went down to bad defeat, with a swing of 10% and a loss of 13 seats. This combined with factional and other problems severely undermined their credibility as an alternative government.

Effectively, in delivering devastating blows to major political parties voters risk severely constraining their choices at the next election, and quite possibly (as in NSW) another one after that. So even if they are unconvinced of the government’s merits – in 2007 a NSW Galaxy poll found most people did not believe Labor deserved to be returned – they don’t vote them out.

Due in part to the severity of the 1999 Liberal defeat, NSW has endured four more years of a government that was by 2007 already tired and under-performing. If Labor gets anything like the vote the current polls suggest, in 2015 and 2019 NSW voters may again face the dilemma of a government that needs to go but an opposition that does not yet seem ready to arrive.

* Except my friend Sacha Blumen, running against Clover Moore in Sydney. I have never forgiven Clover for her role in bringing down Nick Greiner.

9 Responses to “A case for voting Labor in NSW?

  • 1
    Robert Merkel
    December 21st, 2010 19:24

    I’m not sure I agree with you, Andrew.

    At the risk of sounding like a crusty conservative, incompetence and malfeasance deserves electoral punishment – and the punishment should fit the crime.

    NSW isn’t all bad, and not everything that has gone wrong in NSW is due to the current state government, but they seem to have screwed up some things pretty badly.

    Mere election defeat may not send the necessary strength of message to the party.

  • 2
    Andrew Elder
    December 21st, 2010 20:46

    Traditionally there are two political groupings that govern this country: Labor, or a Liberal-National Coalition.

    It is simply no use pretending that Labor is capable of governing NSW in the next decade. Voting Labor only encourages bad behaviour, while political failure alone is inescapable. It’s one thing to recognise a cartel but it’s quite another thing to encourage the sort of poor performance that comes from cartels – in this case, Labor need not undergo fundamental reform because don’t worry, its vote is guaranteed and it will end up back in office simply by waiting their turn.

    If you think that people who vote for minor parties like the LDP or Green are wasting their time because those parties don’t form Cabinets and sustain government, then you must apply a similarly realpolitik approach to NSW Labor. They don’t have the people, they don’t have the principles.

    The only people who are voting Labor are doing so for sentimental reasons. Labor should only get your vote if they have cleared the kind of minimal performance standards which this mob regard as impossible aspirations.

    I told Barry O’Farrell that landslides are a curse for the Liberals – two elections after a Liberal landslide sees the Liberals out of office. Like the Chinese curse about living in interesting times, it’s a hell of a curse to have and a mark of character for O’Farrell and the NSW Liberals to keep it in check.

  • 3
    conrad
    December 22nd, 2010 03:33

    I agree with AE — Labor needs to be restarted in NSW, and the more that go the better. I also think another reason Labor kept on getting voted in in NSW was that the Liberal opposition there were entirely woeful. Many people don’t know how lucky we are in Victoria to get someone like Baillieu.

  • 4
    Andrew Norton
    December 22nd, 2010 04:55

    While I agree that NSW Labor needs a substantial clean-out of MPs (which is happening anyway, with so many jumping before they are pushed), I’m thinking about the dynamics of renewal. The problem with a massive defeat is that it can cause a downward spiral rather than renewal. Everyone thinks the task is hopeless, and so only those with no better options bother standing. We don’t want to rely on the ‘luck’ Conrad refers to in Victoria. In reality, I think we could have had a much better Liberal team in Victoria now if more people had believed that a 2010 election victory was possible.

  • 5
    Tim Andrews
    December 22nd, 2010 08:10

    If I may ask, what was Clover’s role in bringing down Greiner? (Bit before my time, and google doesn’t seem to be helping…)

  • 6
    Andrew Norton
    December 22nd, 2010 08:43

    Tim – After the 1991 NSW election Greiner relied on the support of independents, including Clover. There was a controversy over appointing Terry Metherell (a troubled former minister in the government, sitting as an independent) to a government job which would get him out of parliament. ICAC ruled that the job offer was corrupt, and the four independents indicated that they would not support the government in a no confidence motion if Greiner remained as Premier.

    In my view the job offer was a political fix like appointing someone an ambassador to get rid of them. A court later cleared Greiner.

    This was the beginning of the end of good government in NSW, leading to the sorry state of affairs today.

  • 7
    M
    December 22nd, 2010 09:16

    The problem is that even with only 25% support state wide there are still enough entirely safe labor seats that the power brokers and branch stackers maintain their fifedoms.

    The relentless incompetence in NSW actually shows you that we can live with bad state and local governments for long periods of time. Most people just get on with their lives.

  • 8
    conrad
    December 22nd, 2010 09:29

    “Most people just get on with their lives.”
    .
    Most people have no alternative — However, of those that do, I know a few people that left because Sydney is so dysfunctional, and they were all pretty well off, so they were hardly the most affected by it. I also know people that wouldn’t move there because of it (I personally wouldn’t). These are of course just anecdotes, but I think it’s very hard to judge what you really lose because of poor government — how much is the cost of losing young professionals, for example? I don’t know, but I imagine it adds up. How much is the cost of people spending 2 hours in traffic every day? Again, it certainly can’t be zero.

  • 9
    Andrew Norton
    December 22nd, 2010 09:56

    The decision not to increase public transport fares this year is really just further evidence of their unfitness to govern. A short-term populist measure when raising money to maintain and improve the public transport system should be a priority.