SYDNEY – Australia’s Labor party was elected in the country’s most populous state of New South Wales (NSW), winning a resounding victory that cemented the centre-left party’s nationwide dominance and delivered a boost to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
After 12 years in opposition, the state’s Labor party defeated the ruling centre-right Liberal-National Coalition with promises to address cost-of-living pressures, increase wages of government workers, and limit further privatisations.
The NSW Labor leader, Mr Chris Minns, a 43-year-old from Sydney, on Sunday promised to immediately start working on ensuring wage increase for essential workers such as teachers and nurses.
“We’ll govern for everybody, and we’re ready for the responsibilities of office,” he told reporters.
Labor’s victory follows Mr Albanese’s strong win in a federal election in May 2022, and means that Labor now controls the federal government as well as every state and territory government on the Australian mainland.
The country’s only Liberal-led government is in the island state of Tasmania, which is the country’s least populous state and has just 572,000 residents out of a national population of 26.1 million.
Labor’s ascendancy across Australia partly reflects the current low standing of the federal coalition, whose brand has been damaged in recent years due to concerns about its lack of women representatives and its resistance to strong action on climate change.
In addition, the NSW coalition had experienced a long run of corruption scandals. It was also suffering from a tendency of voters in Australia to tire of their governments after a decade or so in power.
But the strong Labor win in NSW was seen as a vindication of Mr Albanese’s government in Canberra, which has so far avoided serious missteps or scandals and commands a strong lead in opinion polls.
The most recent Newspoll survey on March 5 found that 54 per cent of voters rated Mr Albanese as their preferred prime minister, compared with 28 per cent for coalition leader Peter Dutton, and the remainder undecided.
Celebrating Labor’s victory on Saturday night, Mr Albanese, who is also from Sydney, said voters had backed the party’s commitment to fairness and equality.
“Chris Minns has been a great leader for NSW Labor,” he said. “And after tonight, he will be a great premier for the people of NSW.”
Political commentator Jennifer Hewett said on Sunday that Labor’s political momentum across the nation would be impossible to stop until the Liberal party improved its tarnished brand.
“Liberals – whether at state or federal level – seem unable to regroup and reconnect with much of middle Australia, particularly professional women, particularly growing numbers of younger voters, particularly aspirational migrants,” she wrote in The Australian Financial Review.
The election has left Labor on track to win an outright majority in the NSW Parliament after receiving a big swing of more than 6 per cent in support away from the coalition.
With about 50 per cent of the vote counted, Labor was expected to win 49 seats in the Lower House, compared with 32 for the coalition, three for the Greens party and nine for independents.
The outgoing NSW Premier, Mr Dominic Perrottet, was a social conservative but had adopted progressive approaches to climate change and to gambling reform.
He was well regarded, but was unable to counter perceptions that a change of government was due, and that Labor was likely to do more to improve services and lift wages at a time of high inflation and soaring interest rates.
Former prime minister John Howard, an elder statesman of the Liberal party who ruled from 1996 to 2007, said he did not believe Labor’s recent run of election victories indicated that Australian voters had undergone a change of approach to policy.
“After 12 years, it is hard to stay in office, I can tell you,” he told The Australian newspaper. “That is the nature of life, no matter who is in charge. It’s not a reflection of a coherent nationwide policy movement.”
But the political shockwaves from the election last Saturday are set to continue in the coming days.
On Saturday, the Liberal party will fight to hold a federal seat at a by-election in the state of Victoria after the sitting MP retired.
If the Liberal party fails to win, the result would be seen as disastrous for the coalition leader, Mr Dutton, a staunch conservative who has been trying to broaden his appeal.
Political commentator David Crowe observed in The Sydney Morning Herald on Sunday: “Can the Liberals appeal to the middle ground? There should be no assumptions about Dutton’s tenure until the Aston by-election is over.”