As the NSW state election rapidly approaches, people are faced with a state Coalition government and a Labor opposition that agree on many critical issues. Such issues include the necessity for austerity measures for pay and work conditions as well as the “let it rip” COVID policy. Every election in recent years has seen a rise in bipartisanship elevated to unprecedented heights during the pandemic. While some may view this agreement as beneficial political cohesion, it has caused something of a political crisis among working-class individuals and young people. Consequently, certain voters have been feeling disillusioned and disengaged with the Labor party. The federal election last May saw the lowest primary votes in more than 50 years for both Labor and the Coalition. The same shift was evident in the Victorian state election last November where, despite drastic drops in its vote around working-class areas, Labor retained office after support for the Liberal Party fell to historic lows.
The upcoming NSW election will likely be telling of this recent political change, as we will watch if NSW Labor can convince voters of their worth in government. Owing to this, Labor leader Chris Minns must find a way to differentiate himself and his party from the Liberal party, a task that is being navigated questionably. Minns appears to have been skating on thin ice in the past few months despite Labor's consistent lead in the polls. His failure to support recent strikes by teachers, healthcare workers, and transport workers, as well as Dominic Perrottet’s proposed gambling reform has left his supporters with plenty of questions.
In 2015, Minns was elected to represent the Sydney suburb of Kogarah in the NSW parliament. His political record is of interest, not only due to the rapidly approaching state election, but because it is a concentrated expression of the character of Labor . This character is particularly important in the coming election, as it has been 27 years since NSW Labor’s last election win, when Bob Carr won by a single seat in 1995. Minns appears to have a colossal task ahead of him. However, to maintain its position of power the Coalition must also cling onto seats, which, after 12 years in government, could be difficult for the Coalition.
Minns has decided to stick to textbook Labor issues, a strategy that helped Western Australia’s Mark McGowan achieve success. Essentially, Minns plans to mirror policies that have delivered favourable electoral results in other Labor states such as fair work legislation, investing in local manufacturers and a focus on social services. However, this is proving challenging as, unlike in other states Perrottet has emerged from the shadow of his popular predecessor, Gladys Berejiklian, and slowly developed his own image.
One clash between Labor and the Coalition’s policies is regarding Perrottet’s proposed gambling reform which would see the implementation of a mandatory cashless gambling card required to use gambling machines throughout the state. This reform proposal came after findings by the NSW Crime Commission which revealed poker machines were being used to launder billions of dollars in criminal proceeds, and that opportunistic crimes were being committed to fuel poker machine addictions. The United Workers Union, the Royal Australian College of Surgeons, the NSW section of the Health Services Union, and Mark Morey, the commissioner of the NSW Police, and Liberal statesman John Howard have all endorsed Perrottet’s decision. Minns has declined the call for bipartisan support for these proposed changes or to denounce the aggressive lobbying efforts of the gambling industry. Minns is instead endorsing the voluntary ClubsNSW trial idea. However, since these trials are not mandatory, it is doubtful that those who profit illegally from poker machines or suffer from gambling addiction will choose to participate. Many see this as risky given the need for gambling reform is evident and urgent.
Another contentious issue for the upcoming election is the critical issues NSW faces within the education, healthcare and transport sectors, with union members in these industries staging several strikes during 2021 and 2022. In recognising the immense size of these issues, Minns has promised to help fix them, claiming Labor is "ready for the challenge, [and] we want the responsibility", as reported by The Canberra Times. Two of the main issues in the education sector currently are the lack of teachers in the workforce and subsequent teacher burnout, which Minns intends to fix by offering at least 10,000 temporary teachers across NSW permanent roles. He also pledges to help cut admin work for teachers down by five hours per week to, as he claims, “Get teachers back to doing what they do best - teaching our kids!’” However, these promises were largely matched by Premier Perrottet, who said he would also shift 10,000 temporary teachers into permanent positions. Regarding the transport sector, Minns stated that a new fleet of trains would be manufactured in NSW to replace the state’s outdated railway infrastructure. Additionally, he claimed he would assist the healthcare sector by increasing healthcare financing and nurse staffing, removing the pay ceiling in the public sector, and stopping privatisation.
Minns’ current political stance can be described as a concerted effort to tackle some of NSW most significant political issues. He remains a nuanced political figure who is helping to determine the future of the Labor party state-wide and federally. However, the lack of differentiation between him and current Premier Perrottet on critical policies has left many voters confused and concerned about the future. So far, the majority of voters prefer the NSW Labor party's new policy proposal over the Coalitions. Still, only time will tell if this consensus will be upheld into the March election.