Too close to call. That was the expectation going into the Wagga byelection, and that, it appears, is the reality.
Independent candidate Joe McGirr appeared to be on track for a historic win in the seat on Sunday afternoon, but many primary votes were still to be counted, and, just as crucially, many preferences were still to be distributed.
But regardless of who is declared the new Member for Wagga Wagga, the aftershocks of the swings above 30 per cent that hammered the Liberals in booths across the electorate will be felt across the state, Orange included, for months and years to come.
Incumbent member for Orange and Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party member Philip Donato would be sleeping reasonably soundly ahead of the March election.
Make no mistake: this has been a disastrous weekend for the NSW Coalition government.
A 30 per cent swing away from the Liberal Party – in a seat it has held for more than 60 years – is not just bad. It’s potentially crippling for the government just six months out from the general election.
The Berejiklian government will attempt to absolve itself from blame by pointing to the chaos that has enveloped their federal counterparts in recent weeks.
But don’t be fooled – voters in Wagga have said the ugly events in Canberra that led to yet another change in Prime Minister were not a factor in their decisions at Saturday’s polling booths, with health, education, roads, infrastructure and cost-of-living pressures cited as the main considerations.
While these are the same issues Orange’s voters will use as yardsticks to measure the appeal of candidates when we go to the polls, the rise of the movement against the major political parties is now close to undeniable.
On that ground, incumbent member for Orange and Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party member Philip Donato would be sleeping reasonably soundly ahead of the March election.
In fact, a case could be made for Mr Donato being the pin-up boy for the movement towards ‘outsider’ candidates.
After all, his victory in Orange’s own byelection in November 2016 was, in some ways at least, the electorate’s voicing of its disgust with the Coalition government of the time’s controversial greyhound ban and council merger policies.
That voice appears to be getting louder.
The next time Orange goes to the polls, and at subsequent elections across all tiers of government, it may well be deafening.
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