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Lies and statistics
NSW votes next Saturday. All the polls point to the same outcome:
a decade-old NSW Labor government for the coalition to kick around
at the next federal election. No matter what goes wrong, they'll
always have that.
The state with a third of the House of Representatives seats has
a history of punishing the federal counterpart of its local
administration. Start with July 1987, when Bob Hawke successfully
sought a third term against the then opposition leader John Howard.
There was a 1 per cent national swing to the coalition, but the NSW
component, 2 per cent, accounted for nearly all of it.
But three years later there's a change of heart. While other
states swing in aggregate by 2 per cent to Andrew Peacock, NSW goes
back to Hawke - also by 2 points.
What happened to the folk of NSW between 1987 and 1990? They
demolished the 12 year-old Wran/Unsworth government. Liberal premier
Nick Greiner brought many things to NSW, but votes for federal
colleagues wasn't among them.
The pattern continues to this day. In March 1993, under the then
Liberal premier John Fahey, NSW swung to the Keating government by
more than twice the rest - 2.5 versus 1 per cent. Bob Carr is in
charge by March 1996, and so the state's contribution to the Howard
landslide is massive - 7 per cent compared with 4 per cent
In 1998 the swings to Kim Beazley were 4 in NSW and 5 per cent
outside the state; and in 2001, it shifted back to the coalition, 4
and 1 per cent respectively. So the magnitudes have varied but not
the rule: swing-wise, NSW outperforms the rest of the country for
the federal coalition when Labor is in power there, and
underperforms when it's not.
November 2001 was the high point of the federal coalition's NSW
component - 28 seats out of 50. But 10 years ago last Thursday, Paul
Keating's "sweetest victory of all" left it with only 17, its direst
outcome in memory, and one that would have given Beazley a
comfortable win if repeated 16 months ago. You've heard the usual
reasons for this turnaround: "Sydney is different." They generally
mention "aspirational voters", high incomes, real-estate prices and
migrants, but none of them work because the biggest swings to John
Howard in 2001 weren't in Sydney, but on the NSW south coast.
Gilmore, Throsby and Cunningham swung by 10.6, 7.3 and 6.6 per cent
respectively. It's a state - not a Sydney - thing. That thing is Bob
Carr. He's the federal government's dream Labor Premier: not
charismatically endowed, roundly considered just OK, but he stays in
power. A John Brogden win next weekend would be wonderful news for
Peter Brent is editor of mumble.com.au, a website that looks
at electoral behaviour.
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