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ALP may win Hunter but PUP one to watch

Posted by on 16/09/2018

ALP may win Hunter but PUP one to watch Susan Evans outside New Lambton South Public School.
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Chris Bosworth with children Ava, 6, and Angus, 8, at New Lambton South Public School.

Assunta Martinelli at New Lambton South Public School.

Seen at Hamilton South Public School: John Robertson and Fred Nile.

Charlestown Public School. Picture: Simone De Peak

Charlestown Public School: Two-year-old Evelina out in support of her father, Charlestown Independent candidate Arjay Martin. Picture: Simone De Peak

Don Knott voting at Kotara High School.

Jessica Tranter, Ryan Tranter and Katie Reidy at Hamilton South Public School.

Hamilton South PS: From left, Silvana Nero (wife of Fred Nile), Brian Tucker, (Christian Democrats candidate in Charlestown), Fred Nile MLC, and Milton Caine (Christian Democrats candidate for Newcastle). Picture: Brock Perks

Hamilton South PS: Tim Crackanthorp the Labor candidate for Newcastle. Picture: Brock Perks

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► Where to vote in Charlestown

COMMENT

The bookmakers – and just about everyone else – say the byelections being held in the Hunterthis weekend are a foregone conclusion.

They say the smart money is on the ALP reclaiming the seats of Newcastle and Charlestown after Liberal incumbents Tim Owen and Andrew Cornwell quit parliament in disgrace over having taken illegal political donations before the 2011 election.

Hamilton South PS: From left, Silvana Nero (wife of Fred Nile), Brian Tucker, (Christian Democrats candidate in Charlestown), Fred Nile MLC, and Milton Caine (Christian Democrats candidate for Newcastle). Picture: Brock Perks

►Live byelections blog from 5pm: Join the Herald online for updates, news and the result.

Adding to the likelihood of an ALP victory is that Liberal party’s decision to not contest either byelection. Premier Mike Baird announced some weeks ago the reason was that the party wanted to “atone” for the sins of its former MPs.

This may look like the party is running scared but it is actually smart politics on several fronts.

It avoids the poor visuals of a sound electoral flogging. It potentially allows them to claim the ALP still isn’t trusted in the region if it doesn’t achieve a significant enough swing. And it saves them money probably best spent fighting next year’s general election.

So potentially, it’s not much of a contest – except for one thing: the involvement of Clive Palmer’s Palmer United Party.

Unlike for the forthcoming Victorian election, PUP is not registered for the March 2015 NSW poll.

It’s unclear why. The point is that despite this, it is backing two “independents” in the Newcastle and Charlestown byelections.

Hamilton South PS: Tim Crackanthorp the Labor candidate for Newcastle. Picture: Brock Perks

What exactly does this mean? Well, for a start they have had the benefit (depending on your point of view) of having their campaigns launched by PUP founder and federal MP Clive Palmer and PUP senators Jacqui Lambie and Glenn Lazarus.

Media releases issued by the PR firm working for the party talking up the “PUP-backed independents” are emblazoned with PUP livery.

The rules set down by the NSW election commission say because the party is not registered for the general election in 2015, it cannot have its name on the ballot paper – a distinct disadvantage.

But when it comes to using PUP branding on electoral material like corflutes – those plastic posters parties affix to telegraph poles – and how-to-vote cards, the rules are far less clear.

The commission says that an unregistered party “can distribute electoral material which supports a candidate, eg, “The X Party supports candidate Joe Bloggs”.

So presumably PUP is free to distribute advertising material making it crystal clear it is backing its favoured “independents” -Jennifer Stefanac in Newcastle andSuellen Wrightson in Charlestown.

The only rule is that the electoral material can’t contain “matter that may mislead an elector in the casting of their vote”.

“For example, an unregistered party cannot display the party name next to the candidate’s name on a how to vote card in a way that implies the ballot paper would look like that, or that the party is registered,” a commission spokesman said.

The spokesman explained the rules are this way because it is important unregistered parties are able to compete in elections and allowing them to make it clear they are backing a candidate is important for transparency.

All of thiscan be directly applied to next year’s general election contest if the PUP decides to field candidates in the lower and upper house.

Consequently, how well PUP polls in the Hunter byelections may be a good indicator of how they may fare next year if they decide to stand candidates and mount a genuine effort.

An Essential poll published last month indicated PUP was polling at 4 per cent in NSW (the question was asked despite PUP not being registered because it is a national poll).

It doesn’t sound like much but in NSW elections it’s quite an impressive figure for a minor party.

The Greens – with five MPs in the upper house and one in the lower house – were polling at 8 per cent.

The Shooters and Fishers Party received just 3.6 per cent of the upper house primary vote in 2011, yet managed to get an MP elected. Likewise the Christian Democratic Party with only 3.1 per cent.

Clearly those parties were registered to contest the election and benefited from that status by having their name on the ballot paper. They are also well established in NSW.

But could PUP overcome this disadvantage by exploiting the rules to be a force to be reckoned with in 2015? How its “independent” candidates fare in the Newcastle and Charlestown byelections might offer a clue.

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