While the media has focused on how many seats Labor may pick up off the Coalition on March 28 and the impact of Luke Foley as Labor leader, the Legislative Council election is shaping up to be the most important battle of the upcoming NSW election. Whoever controls the Upper House will determine whether electricity privatisation (and the Coalition’s second term agenda) occurs.
Current distribution of seats
The current distribution of seats in the Legislative Council (42) is 14 ALP, 12 Liberals, 7 Nationals, 5 Greens, 2 Shooters and Fishers and 2 Christian Democratic Party (CDP).
In 2011, the Coalition won 11 of 21 spots while Labor won 5 and the Greens won 3 with one each for the CDP and Shooters and Fishers.
The Liberals have been able to form a majority (22) in the Upper House by dealing with the CDP and the Shooters and Fishers Party.
The fight over electricity privatisation
Along with Labor and the Greens, the Shooters and Fishers have pledged to oppose the privatisation of electricity. There may be scepticism as they have a tendency to be bought off but they have stated that they will not deal on privatisation. The CDP has, however, indicated it will support the privatisation of electricity. This isn’t a surprise given the far right former Liberals that are in the CDP and the preference deal they had with the Liberals had at the 2011 election.
To gain a majority to sell off the poles and wires, the Coalition needs to win 9 seats with the support of the CDP (assuming Nile is re-elected). 11 seats would give them a majority in their own right. To win 9 of 21 suggests a primary vote of 41% (potentially less because of Optional Preferential Voting). A recent Galaxy poll has suggested that the Coalition is on a primary vote of 43% meaning they are hovering around a majority for privatisation.
The danger of a Coalition victory in the Upper House
The big danger is if the Coalition gains control of the Upper House (with the CDP) they will try to implement a radical free-market agenda that goes beyond electricity privatisation and includes the privatisation of water, trains and extend contestability and outsourcing across public health care, education and social services.
For anyone who believes in essential services should be kept in public hands, stopping the NSW Coalition from being able to implement its agenda must be a priority. Success will mean others will attempt to emulate Baird’s neoliberal agenda. The importance is underscored by Paul Kelly who states that:
Defeat for Baird would constitute the most lethal blow for market-based economic reform for years…
The added danger is a good Coalition result in the Legislative Council will make it harder to unwind any changes or pursue progressive reforms if Labor wins in 2019. Unlike federally, there is no mechanism to clear the NSW Upper House and the term served by each MLC is eight years. It makes it all the more important to stop the Coalition (and their allies the CDP) from being able to get a majority.
UPDATE 10/03/15: Antony Green has suggested that because of Optional Preferential Voting, the Coalition may only need around 39% to gain 9 seats.