SO, what to make of the Berejiklian Government’s stunning defeat in the Wagga Wagga by-election?
As was the case with the Orange defeat in 2016, the temptation for the government will be downplay the result as a response to a number of one off-factors.
In the case of Orange it was a backlash against the Nationals’ role in trying to kill off greyhound racing in the state and attempts to force a number of unwilling council amalgamations that prompted a massive swing, while in Wagga Wagga the behaviour of disgraced former member Daryl Maguire and the federal party’s knifing of a mid-term prime minister were major factors.
And by-elections are notoriously difficult for incumbent governments as voters seize the opportunity to cast a protest vote without forcing a change of government.
But this is becoming all-too-common for the government to sit back and say it will be a different story at the ballot box next March.
Now elected, independent Joe McGirr and Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party MP Phil Donato – who is, effectively, an independent – will both be difficult to unseat.
The major parties have diminishing support right across the country and voters have consistently shown they will support a high-profile and credible alternative.
So the greatest danger to the Nationals and Liberals next March will most likely come from minor party and independent candidates rather than Labor opponents, and that’s why we are already discussing the possibility of a minority government.
Of course, the best defence for all major party MPs is to look after their own electorate first and foremost, with party machinations to run a distant second. And that means giving voters what they want.
Gladys Berejiklian showed a rare lapse in political judgment by demanding a Liberal contest the Wagga Wagga by-election when a Nationals candidate would surely have been a better prospect, but the Coalition is unlikely to make that mistake again.
There is undoubtedly an appetite for change within the electorate, but just what they to change to is less clear.
Luke Foley has been opposition leader for almost four years and yet only the most avid follower of politics could name him. And if the Coalition is also on the nose, then thousands of votes will be up for grabs across the state between now and March.
Plenty will fancy their chances, so the fields of candidates might be the biggest we’ve seen in many years.