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The Wagga Wagga Wobbles

The last thing the NSW Government needs before the March 2019 election is another by-election '“ but that's what they've got. And it could be more painful than they think.

News of Daryl McGuire falling on his sword after an appearance before the ICAC inquiry was largely met with a shrug of the shoulders from most Liberal Party officials - with a 12.9% margin, it's hardly a seat they'd expect to lose.

However the September 8 by-election could be a problem for the NSW Government. Here's why.

By-elections are expensive

Spending per seat by any Party running in the Wagga by-election is capped at $245,000. The NSW Liberals will have to spend big to win this by-election to convince disaffected regional voters not to switch to a resurgent One Nation, or an independent candidate. Despite that, it's money the party can't afford to spend with a general election only seven months away.

And while Labor are unlikely to be a threat, left-wing political agitators like Get Up! will be seeking to wedge voters on key issues and drive support away from the Liberal candidate.

Bad blood boils

Discussions within the NSW Coalition regarding three-cornered-contests can be ugly, and debate around the Wagga by-election on this front appears to have been no exception.

Rumours surfaced in the media and within political circles of a strong faction within the Nationals pushing for a three-cornered-contest, considering the seat of Wagga falls within the Federal seat of Riverina held by the Deputy Prime Minister, The Nationals' Michael McCormack.  

While the push was defeated, it's thought that this ruckus has caused three-cornered tension between factions within the NSW Nationals as well as between the Nationals and the Liberal Party.

An (independent) force to be reckoned with

To make matters worse for the Government, it's believed a strong and well-liked independent intends to take the field in the Wagga by-election. The independent is apparently a strong candidate with deep roots in the region, and if the rumours can be believed, is being backed by some senior conservative identities behind the scenes.  

Considering the average swing against a government at by-elections is around 9%, a strong independent runner could shave the 12.9% margin down to a wafer-thin buffer, if not see the seat fall altogether.

But it's not all bad news'¦

Despite all the above, it's not all shaky ground for the Liberal Party in Wagga. They've preselected a strong candidate in local farmer and educator, Julia Ham. Ham runs a merino sheep farm in the river-fed countryside between Tumbarumba and Tumut. An early childhood teacher by trade, Ham is currently a principal consultant at Early Childhood Quality services.

She was elected as a member of Snowy Valleys Council in September 2017. Ham's profile fits nicely with the landowners of the Riverina region as well as the many young families that live in regional hubs like Wagga and Tumut.

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