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Who’s the greatest NSW Premier?

Malcolm Mackerras
Thursday, May 09, 2019

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Readers of my articles here will know of my style when it comes to elections. It has always been to make clear predictions a week or so out from polling day but then conspicuously to make virtually no comment after the event until all the votes are counted. In respect of the recent event in New South Wales, my predictions were contained in the article published here on Thursday 14 March where I predicted that the overall two-party preferred vote would favour the Coalition over Labor by 51% to 49%.

I have now calculated the precise figures and they are 2,053,189 (52.02) for Liberal-National and 1,893,618 (47.98) for Labor. So I was 1% out. In seats, however, I was “spot on” – except I wasn’t. If readers care to refer to my article in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, they would notice that I predicted 33 Liberals and 15 Nationals in the Legislative Assembly, a total of 48. In fact, the result was 35 Liberals and 13 Nationals, also a total of 48.

The reason is that I made four cancelling errors. I was wrong to predict that the Nationals would win Ballina (won by the Greens) and Murray (won by the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party). I was also wrong to predict that Labor would win East Hills and Goulburn. Both seats were retained by the Liberal Party. That success resulted in the Liberals getting one more cabinet post in a post-election ministry expanded by one.

Let me remind readers of the concluding paragraph of my predictions article. Referring to Gladys Berejiklian I wrote: “It is being widely written that she has adopted a strategy to crash or crash through. I believe historians will record that she succeeded in crashing through.” Let me now go further than that – as I explain below.

Historians like to rank leaders of governments in order of greatness. I have no doubt that when the historians of the NSW Division of the Liberal Party set themselves to this task, they will decide that Nick Greiner was their greatest Premier and Berejiklian the second greatest. They will also notice that both are of non-Anglo Celtic background. Coming in at third greatest would be Sir Robert Askin.

In comparing election results there is sometimes an important difference between the statistics of an election and its psychology. In March 2011 Barry O’Farrell secured a two-party preferred vote of 64.2%. In March 2015 Mike Baird won 54.3%. Poor old Gladys won “only” 52%. Yet the party will decide that the achievement of Gladys was “the sweetest victory of all”.

Back in 2011 the Liberal Party won Blue Mountains, Campbelltown, Charlestown, Coogee, Gosford, Granville, Londonderry, Maitland, Newcastle, Port Stephens, Rockdale, Smithfield, Strathfield, Swansea, The Entrance, Wagga Wagga and Wyong. None of those seats were won by Liberals in 2019. The Nationals then won Ballina, Barwon, Lismore, Murray-Darling, Murrumbidgee and Orange. In 2019 none were won by Nationals.

Why, therefore, do I not include Barry O’Farrell as one of the greatest? The answer is that I have just given “purely corroborative detail intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.” Berejiklian will be Premier for quite a long period. She will not have the record of economic reform to which Greiner can make claim – but she will have a claim to greatness of a different kind. I ask readers to fill in further details.

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University. malcolm.mackerras@acu.edu.au)

Published: Thursday, May 09, 2019


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