New South Wales

By Clune, David | The Australian Journal of Politics and History, June 1999 | Go to article overview
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New South Wales

Clune, David, The Australian Journal of Politics and History

July to December 1998


The final boundaries for the new 93 seat Legislative Assembly were released on 10 July. There had been much speculation that the Government's reduction of the size of the Assembly was an attempt to bring about a redistribution that would improve its chances of retaining office. The actual result was to weaken Labor's position. On the old boundaries, the Government had a majority of three (after its victory in the Clarence by-election). Under the new redistribution, it has 46 seats, one short of the number needed to govern in its own right. The Coalition has 44 seats. However, this understates its real strength. With the retirement of Independent Member Peter McDonald, Manly seems likely to revert to the Liberal Party, while Tamworth Independent, Tony Windsor, would probably support a Coalition Government, thus bringing the total up to 46. The balance of power would then be with Clover Moore, Independent Member for Bligh. Each side also has five seats that would change hands with a swing of 3 per cent. The situation is thus finely balanced. In terms of overall fairness, election analyst Antony Green has concluded that although the new boundaries are definitely fairer than the old, Labor still retains a small advantage in that while it "needs to increase its vote to hold government, it can still win with a smaller proportion of the vote than the Coalition" (Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), 13 July 1998; Green, A., 1997/98 NSW Redistribution: analysis of final boundaries, NSW Parliamentary Library, 1998).

Labor's failure to improve its position led to internal recriminations with a left spokesman stating: "this is all pain for no gain. This would have to be the greatest own goal in the history of the NSW Right". The reduction in the number of electorates also left a number of Labor Members, including Police Minister Paul Whelan, without seats and triggered off a series of bitter pre-selection struggles. Many of these problems remained unresolved by the end of 1998 (SMH, 28 March 1998). The redistribution threw up two major problems for the Coalition, both of which were quickly settled. Liberal Member for Burrinjuck, Alby Schultz, had his home base of Cootamundra transferred into National Party Leader Ian Armstrong's seat of Lachlan. A threatened electoral clash between the two was averted when Schultz won the Federal seat of Hume for the Liberals in the October election. Liberals Barry O'Farrell (Northcott) and Jeremy Kinross (Gordon) both had their seats abolished. A looming battle between them for the electorate of Ku-ring-gai (vacated by the sitting Member for the new seat of Hornsby) was averted when Kinross unexpectedly withdrew.

The Quality of Sydney's Drinking Water

The detection of high levels of the potentially harmful organisms giardia and cryptosporidium in Sydney's water led to a rapidly escalating crisis that culminated on 30 July with most city residents being warned to boil tap water before drinking. The alert was lifted on 4 August but tests showing further high levels of contamination led to it being re-imposed on the 25th. The water supply was progressively being declared safe when, for the third time, harmful contamination levels were discovered resulting in more than three million Sydney residents again having to boil their drinking water until 19 September.

The political repercussions were enormous, particularly as 80 per cent of Sydney's water comes from an expensive, state-of-the-art, privately-owned filtration plant which began operating at Prospect in 1996. A costly and long-running marketing campaign had promoted Sydney water as among the world's best. There was much public questioning of why the quality of the Olympic city's water supply was now revealed to be like that of a Third World country. The cost to Sydney Water of urgent remedial measures, rebates to users, settlement of legal claims and other resulting expenses was estimated to be at least $50 million (SMH, 16 December 1998).

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New South Wales


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