News National PM and colleagues tread carefully in nail-biting week before NSW election

PM and colleagues tread carefully in nail-biting week before NSW election

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian will face a female opponent after NSW Labor elected its new leader. Photo: AAP Photo: AAP
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Published and private polling in New South Wales is picking up a disconcerting swing away from the Berejiklian coalition government – and no one is more nervous than Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

The prospect of a minority Labor government – let alone a majority one – would decimate fragile morale in the federal Liberals already dreading the prospect of a big loss in May.

A sense of how deep the apprehension is in both Sydney and Canberra is the remark last week from the Nationals leader and deputy premier John Barilaro.

He urged his federal colleagues, especially Barnaby Joyce “to shut up and worry about themselves when they are annihilated”.

The ramifications of the big Liberal state loss in Victoria are still being felt and fund raising is only half of it.

There is already the whiff of political death about the federal Coalition.

Another state humiliation is almost too terrible to contemplate.

One Victorian Liberal believes his NSW colleagues are in for a drubbing.

The published opinion polls in Victoria substantially underestimated the swing to Labor, as did the polls before the Super Saturday by-elections in Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania last year.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian in many ways has been her own worst enemy. The rush to demolish the Sydney Football stadium so close to the election is the prime example. It reinforces the “waste and mismanagement” attacks of her political opponents already potent thanks to major infrastructure and transport project cost overruns and delays.

But there are federal-state cross overs at play. This is the fourth New South Wales state election led by a different premier. The Liberals have delivered three of them. Sure they have done it without the bloodletting of their Canberra colleagues but it has cost them.

Ms Berejiklian is not as popular as Mike Baird was at the 2015 election and his absence is a reminder of why he went – a collapse of support, particularly in regional NSW, thanks to council amalgamations and greyhound racing bans.

This malaise showed up dramatically in the Orange and Wagga by-elections and is a harbinger of big trouble in the bush.

State Labor campaigners say climate change and energy is playing “big time” in the election. Mr Baird’s electricity privatisation has not delivered cheaper power – the exact opposite.

Mr Baird’s failure is compounded by the fact federal party interpersonal rivalries and deep ideological divides over coal and renewables have left the government in Canberra an impotent shambles – the national energy guarantee was buried along with Malcolm Turnbull.

Mr Barilaro is not the only coalition MP fearing voters who are itching to clobber the federal Liberals may take out their frustrations on the state coalition next Saturday.

According to The Australian’s Andrew Clennell, some are already confused which poll they are actually voting in.

Last Friday’s Christchurch mosque massacre is likely to make a big dent in any recovery plans Mr Morrison has after Saturday.

He has already pivoted away from his default position of demonising Muslims and hold every one of them to account after terrorist attacks as he did with the killing of the Melbourne café owner Sisto Malaspina in November.

Muslim leaders in Melbourne refused to meet after that, but this weekend was a very different story when he paid his respects at the Lakemba mosque and condemned the white supremacist “terrorist”.

He is still to live down reports that he urged the Liberals in opposition in 2011 to “capitalise on anti-Muslim sentiment”. Though he refutes the story and is supported by other members of the then-shadow cabinet in his denial.

The point being it will now be much harder to ramp up a full-scale fear and loathing campaign of Muslim refugees similar to John Howard’s desperate 2001 “children overboard” strategy.

Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics

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