On March 25th, New South Wales will head to the polls to elect its 58th parliament. The incumbent Liberal-National Coalition led by Premier Dominic Perrottet will face off against the Labor party under the leadership of Chris Minns. The election results from the largest state in the nation will tell us a lot about the politics and issues of all Australians going forward.

The election issues centre around the cost of living, including the cost of tolls, and changes to first-home buyer policies. The Liberals have presented their “Keep NSW Moving Forward” plan which focuses on economic management, investing more in health care, and continuing major infrastructure projects like Sydney’s new Metro. They are making their incumbency and record the centrepiece of their election strategy.

Labor’s plan is a promised “Fresh Start Plan for NSW”, alluding to the desire among many voters for change in the state after a decade of Liberal leadership and controversies. Their plan focuses on increased education and health funding, building and improving public transport, and introducing a $60 weekly toll cap.

Labor has been under the relatively new leadership of Chris Minns since June 2021 and currently has 36 of the 47 seats needed to govern. To win the election, Labor must battle for seats in South and Southwest Sydney, electorates like Penrith, whilst defending their current seats from the Liberals, Greens, and independents. Despite the national swing towards Labor in recent years, obtaining another 11 seats in this election is audacious.

The Coalition is heading into this election two seats short of a majority. But Premier Dominic Perrottet faces significant challenges around the culture, history, and potential corruption of the previous Liberal government. Former Premier Gladys Berejiklian led the Liberals to their 2019 election win and through the COVID-19 pandemic. However, she resigned as leader following an Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) investigation surrounding her secret relationship with former Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire.

On the Nationals side of the Coalition, former leader John Barilaro also resigned following an investigation into corrupt behaviours. After he left office, he was controversially appointed to a well-paid trade position in New York despite a qualified candidate already told she was getting the job. The subsequent controversy was seen as a continuation of a “jobs for the boys” culture that has dogged federal and state Liberal governments.

The Coalition is lined up to potentially make history with no other party in NSW winning five consecutive elections. After losing the last federal election, the Liberal party is only in government in NSW and Tasmania. Dominic Perrotet is already a very different candidate compared to federal opposition leader Peter Dutton. Perottet, for example, signed a memorandum to support the Voice to Parliament and has a much more progressive climate policy compared to his federal counterparts in opposition. There is an identity crisis of sorts in the Liberal party as the Teal independents have wiped out most of the party’s moderate wing.The more conservative majority is now calling the shots; how the more moderate Perrotet and his party fare at the next election will be a crucial indicator of the future direction of the Liberal party. Peter Dutton has been noticeably absent from campaigning in this state election. Will this and the upcoming Aston by-election cause the Liberals to recalibrate, or commit further to the right? Only time will tell.

As the election looms, the polls are narrowing with Labor not more than 3 to 5 points ahead in recent polling, meaning a hung parliament is possible.The rise of independents, too, will play a crucial role in the election. Following the last federal election, many Liberal heartland seats fell to ‘Teal’ independents. Many of the independents in this year’s state election wish to echo the successes of the federal independents, and are focusing on integrity and climate change in their bid to take mainly Liberal-held seats in Sydney’s north and North Shore. A coalition of eight independent candidates, led by incumbent independent MP Alex Greenwich, is already saying it will pressure the major parties to pursue coal and gas reforms, halting pipelines and expansions of existing projects and echoing the existing calls from the Greens in federal parliament.

With a historic election ahead for NSW, there is much to watch out for on March 25th. The future direction of the Liberal party, a potential hung parliament, and the rise of more Independents are potent indicators of the Australian political landscape, and the future of politics in this country.

Students registered to vote in NSW can vote in the election at the Canberra Museum and Gallery in London Circuit, open 9am-5pm, from Monday the 20th until Friday the 24th.

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