NSW election result ‘deeply rooted’ in western Sydney’s cost-of-living crisis

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The cost-of-living crisis in western Sydney and a loss of trust in government drove voters in the region away from the Coalition in a shift that decided the New South Wales election, experts say.

Western Sydney has been labelled the region where “elections are won and lost” after it played pivotal roles in the NSW election as well as last year’s federal poll.

At the 2022 federal election, several key seats in the populous region flipped from Liberal to Labor. A similar situation played out in Saturday’s state election as the seats of Parramatta, Penrith, Riverstone, Holsworthy, Camden and East Hills all switched to Labor, providing the party with a path to victory.

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The Liberal party had held some of those seats for more than a decade, but their first preference vote collapsed by 15% in Parramatta, 14% in Riverstone and 8% in Camden, amid a statewide swing of more than 7%.

The Liberals also fell further behind in some western Sydney seats held by Labor, such as Canterbury, Granville and Bankstown.

Christopher Brown, chairman of the Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue, says this swing was a result of communities hurting from a worsening cost-of-living crisis.

He says workers in the region often have to travel further and pay more to commute, amid rising interest rates and the increased costs of bills and groceries.

“The result was deeply rooted in the cost-of-living crisis,” Brown said. “There’s nowhere hurting more than the commuter belt of north-western and south-western Sydney. These are the guys struggling with mortgages that represent the highest percentage of their income.”

He said Labor’s focus on essential worker wages was key to the success of the party’s campaign, in contrast to the infrastructure projects the Coalition had become known for.

“The punters chose a different team and it reflects a changing dynamic,” he said. “People want nurses rather than hospitals; they want teachers rather than schools.”

Brown said any future election campaign would ignore western Sydney “at their own peril”, adding the NSW result reflected a region unafraid to “flex its political muscle”.

“This is the third-biggest economy in Australia. We’re bigger than Brisbane,” he said.

“This is the place that determines governments in Australia and in NSW. Not through arrogance, but through the numbers.

“Western Sydney is where federal and state elections are won and lost. Simple as that.”

But policy decisions weren’t the only factors in securing the large swings for Labor – the choice of candidates also played a big role, experts say.

Prof Andy Marks, director of the Centre for Western Sydney at Western Sydney University, said Labor’s decision to pick candidates from local government in key seats such as Parramatta and Penrith paid off.

“They already had an existing profile. They’re well known in the community and there’s trust there.”

Marks said a trust in government was also a factor – a legacy of the harsh lockdown restrictions implemented across western Sydney during the pandemic.

He said the “infamous sight” of partygoers at Bondi beach while western Sydney was under strict restrictions shaped how people “perceive” the government.

“A lot of people felt that the response to the pandemic wasn’t equitable across greater Sydney, particularly when you’re looking at areas on the coast,” Marks said.

“Those things do stick with voters. They may not turn the vote in particular, but it adds to a sentiment around the issue of trust and integrity.

“We saw people who felt disenfranchised from some of the narratives of government.”

Elfa Moraitakis, chief executive officer at SydWest Multicultural Services, said Covid restrictions, which included travel restrictions and a curfew, had a lasting impact on people’s opinions of the Coalition government.

“People thought that the great divide and the tale of the two cities has been all forgotten,” she said.

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“Unfortunately for the outgoing government, the community did not forget and that sentiment translated into votes and to the swing we saw.”

Moraitakis said low-income families in western Sydney had been struggling with basics, such as affording food and maintaining a job, and the election was an opportunity to be heard.

“They definitely feel heard but they also want to see a government that will deliver to its promises.

“We’ve never provided more emergency vouchers to people struggling than we have during this cost-of-living crisis. Our homelessness program has exceeded capacity. People are struggling with childcare and to find housing.

“And that played a huge role in who they decided to vote for. It was definitely a cost-of-living election.”