VOTERS in last weekend’s byelections for Newcastle and Charlestown could be excused for feeling at least mildly resentful.
Rounded up to cast votes for candidates who will scarcely warm their parliamentary benches before the general election next March, some voters might well have wondered whether the exercise had much point.
Indeed, it seems about one in five eligible voters elected not to bother, risking a $55 fine instead.
Newcastle voters will be back to the booths on November 15 to choose a new lord mayor.
All three elections were made necessary by resignations that followed revelations in the Independent Commission Against Corruption of illegal donations before the 2011 state election.
Liberal MPs Tim Owen and Andrew Cornwell were forced to stand down after they admitted accepting money from developer Jeff McCloy, who was also forced out of his position as lord mayor because of the same revelations.
Labor won the byelections for both state seats, but a conspicuous peculiarity of both polls was the absence of Liberal candidates.
NSW Premier Mike Baird told voters the decision not to field byelection candidates was a sort of penance for the party’s misbehaviour, but promised the Liberals would endorse candidates in both seats at the March general election.
Labor will be hoping that the gift of incumbency will be a telling factor in March, and the Charlestown result certainly suggests that the new MP, Lake Macquarie City Council mayor Jodie Harrison, will be hard to dislodge.
The ALP’s position in Newcastle does not seem quite so rock solid, however. New member Tim Crakanthorp’s win looks comfortable on paper, but Independent Karen Howard attracted a very healthy share of votes.
In the general election – where Ms Howard has already foreshadowed another tilt, perhaps as an endorsed Liberal candidate – she might easily narrow the gap.
Much as opposition leader John Robertson might trumpet the victories, the state ALP still has a lot to live down in the eyes of Newcastle voters, given the evidence in ICAC about senior party figures allegedly killing off a container terminal for the city and plotting to have their own party’s MP, Jodi McKay, removed from power.
The question for Labor is what it can achieve from incumbency in Newcastle in the lead-up to the general election.
Mr Crakanthorp will be part of a heavily outnumbered opposition for a very short time before the major poll.
The Coalition government insists it won’t be diverted from its goal of reshaping Newcastle’s city centre. Much will depend, then, on how its changes are perceived by Novocastrian voters.