What will the teal wave mean for Victorian and NSW state elections?

by Ben Raue
Swings at federal election hint at shifts that could be replicated in state polls due in November and March

With the federal poll decided, upcoming elections in Australia’s two biggest states will be the next electoral test for our country’s political parties. The dramatic swing to independents raises interesting questions about what might happen in Victoria in November and New South Wales in March.

It’s important to note that federal election results are not predictive of what happens in state elections, or vice versa. Indeed, there is a history of state and federal elections held in quick succession producing quite different results. The 1992 Victorian state election swept Jeff Kennett to power, less than six months before the state voted strongly for the Keating Labor government in 1993.

If anything, the defeat of Scott Morrison’s government could deflate some anti-Coalition pressure on the Perrottet state government in New South Wales, although they will still be facing a tight and fierce contest to hold power after 12 years in office.

The federal election saw a realignment in traditional Liberal heartland electorates in the inner cities. There is some evidence that the Liberal party’s hold on these areas is weakening in state politics too, although it’s unlikely to be as dramatic as at the federal election.

The 2018 Victorian state election showed a hint of what was to come in 2022, when Labor did surprisingly well in the Liberal heartland seats of inner south-eastern Melbourne. The Andrews government had a shock victory in Hawthorn while coming close in Brighton and Sandringham. All these seats have existed for at least 67 years (some of them much longer) and had never been won by Labor more than once in that time, prior to 2018.

In NSW, the byelection in February 2022 to replace former premier Gladys Berejiklian in the northern Sydney seat of Willoughby should have been an easy win for the Coalition, given their 23.75% margin. But independent Larissa Penn polled 46.7% after preferences, despite a campaign much smaller than those run by the teal independents federally. Fellow independent Kylea Tink went on to win the overlapping federal seat of North Sydney.

There is a long history of independent MPs winning seats in northern Sydney. North Shore was held by pioneering independent Ted Mack in the 1980s; Manly was dominated by a group of independents through the 1990s and early 2000s; while Pittwater was won by an independent upon the retirement of former Liberal leader John Brogden in 2005.

The NSW Coalition is in a difficult position, already lacking a majority in the lower house. An independent push in the northern suburbs of Sydney could be an unwelcome distraction from the conventional marginal seat contests set to come against Labor in Sydney seats like Penrith, East Hills, Holsworthy and Winston Hills, and in regional seats like Upper Hunter, Tweed and Goulburn.

There hadn’t been much evidence of a large-scale independent push in New South Wales until now, but a local group in the North Sydney area is now seeking candidates for Lane Cove, North Shore and Willoughby.

The situation is more difficult for the Victorian Liberals. The party has a string of very marginal seats that overlap with the three inner-city seats they lost to Labor and independents federally.

Caulfield, held by a margin of just 0.1%, covers parts of the seat of Higgins, which Labor gained at the federal election. Further south, both Brighton and Sandringham overlap with the seat of Goldstein, which was won by independent Zoe Daniel last month.

Finally, there is Kew, which overlaps the federal seat of Kooyong, won by Monique Ryan from the federal treasurer. It’s currently held by retiring Liberal MP Tim Smith who has argued the party should abandon seats like his in favour of a focus on the outer suburbs, something unlikely to do his successor any favours.

You would typically expect Labor to be vulnerable after eight years in office, and that may be the case in some outer suburban marginals. Swings away from federal Labor may hint at difficulties in seats like Nepean and Pakenham, and safer seats like Cranbourne. But the government currently has an 11-seat buffer, and if they can pin down their opposition in seats like Caulfield, Brighton, Sandringham and Kew, it should provide them with options to pursue a third term in office.