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NSW Labor suffers by-election hammering -

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NSW Labor suffers by-election hammering

The World Today - Monday, 20 October , 2008 12:18:00

Reporter: Lisa Millar

ELEANOR HALL: While the Federal Labor Party may be winning public approval for its handling of the
economic crisis, in Australia's largest state the party is reeling from the biggest by-election
hammering of any government since World War Two.

The New South Wales Premier was insisting this morning that his government has heard the message.

But few are giving it any chance of turning things around, leaving the public with a government
simply limping through until the end of its four-year term in 2011.

In Sydney, Lisa Millar reports.

LISA MILLAR: For Nathan Rees this morning, it was a case of back to the scene of the crime.

The New South Wales Premier held a press conference at Central train station.

Public transport problems have been a constant source of irritation and on the weekend helped
convince voters to turn against Labor.

NATHAN REES: Well, on the weekend we saw that the community is demanding change and today we start
that process. I am analysing the weekend's results but the clear message to me is that we have a
mandate for change and a mandate for reform to get this state moving again.

LISA MILLAR: The swings are some of the biggest the ABC's election analyst Antony Green has seen.

ANTONY GREEN: They are disastrous for the Government and even if the swing is half that at the next
general election, the Government will be swept out in a landslide.

LISA MILLAR: And perhaps predictably the Deputy Premier Carmel Tebbutt was this morning spruiking
the only message she could - that the Government had heard voters - loud and clear.

CARMEL TEBBUTT: We understand that the community are cranky with us, angry with us and that just
means that we have to double and triple our efforts to deliver the types of improvements that the
community are looking for.

LISA MILLAR: Norman Abjorensen from the Australian National University points to the result in Ryde
- a seat that had been held by former deputy premier John Watkins - as an indicator of what's
ahead.

NORMAN ABJORENSEN: And it brings back memories of the Bass by-election that foreshadowed the end of
the Whitlam government or the collapse of the support for the Whitlam government in 1975 when the
former deputy prime minister, Lance Barnard retired from Parliament. Huge swing against the
government and that was the beginning of the end and that probably emboldened the Opposition to go
ahead and block supplies.

So there is some fairly ominous history connected with big swings against a troubled government.

LISA MILLAR: New South Wales voters might want to vent some more polling booth anger but with fixed
four-year terms they'll have to wait another two-and-a-half years.

Antony Green says they may be frustrated but that's democracy.

ANTONY GREEN: Even if the fixed term legislation wasn't there, the Government with this majority
would continue through to the end of the term. If a government has a majority in Parliament, you
couldn't do anything about it.

The Kirner government in Victoria went through for a full four years even though it had variable
length terms because there was no way to bring it down in office. That is the same in New South
Wales; whether it is fixed or not. This is always the case if you have got a government in office
and it is deeply on the nose then in the end, you just have to put up with it.

There is no way you can, in democracy, you can't just decide no you're gone. Toss you out. You have
to wait until the next election comes around and that is the way democracy works for all its
faults.

LISA MILLAR: So the next step for the Government is a mini-budget on the 11th of November and
promises of doing what it can to stabilise the economy.

The next state election is Queensland and after watching Labor's woes in Western Australia and New
South Wales, Anna Bligh must be starting to worry.

There's also another fundamental shift in voting patterns that could be worrying the major parties.

In the ACT election on the weekend, Liberal and Labor won 69 per cent of the vote - a huge drop
according to Norman Abjorensen

NORMAN ABJORENSEN: It wasn't all that long ago when the Liberal Party and the Labor Party could
claim 85 to 90 per cent of the vote and the rest was up for grabs. So we are seeing a fragmentation
of the existing parties at the moment. That is a pretty disturbing trend.

LISA MILLAR: But whatever votes they lose the state governments have only themselves to blame.

Antony green again:

ANTONY GREEN: The reason the state governments are doing badly at the moment, is not because it is
a reflection on Kevin Rudd. It is a reflection on the performance of the state governments. For the
last few years the state governments have been able to get by, by blaming everything on John Howard
and the Commonwealth. Well John Howard and the Commonwealth Liberal government have gone.

We now have a federal Labor Government and these state governments are having to live on their own
records and some of them are falling badly. And what is happening now is a switch around as state
governments are having to stand up and defend their own records and not hide under the shelter of
blaming Canberra.

ELEANOR HALL: That is the ABC's election analyst Antony Green ending that report from Lisa Millar.