What to Watch for with the NSW By-elections

It’s Saturday 12 February 2022, by-election day in NSW.

It’s not often you get four by-elections caused by such high profile departures from parliament, three former party leaders including a former Premier, Deputy Premier and Opposition Leader, and a former senior cabinet member.

The four by-elections with links to my ABC election guide for each are

I’m involved in the ABC’s live coverage of the results from 6pm on ABC news channel. You can also follow the results at the ABC elections site where I will add some relevant commentary when I’m not too busy with the television coverage.

The results site will be running using the ABC’s election computer rather than my personal by-election software. During the night I will use my software to publish some tables of polling place results, those result pages linked from the result/guide page for each by-election.

In this post I’ll give a few pointers on how the results will unfold, the recent history of by-elections in NSW, and hints on reading the possible Federal election implications.

Don’t Expect a lot of Results Tonight

Over the last fortnight I’ve been tracking the rate of pre-poll voting and postal vote return rates. You can find the detail in a previous post.

In short, every voter was sent a postal vote for these by-elections as a Covid measure. This has suppressed the rate of pre-poll voting in each electorate and will also diminish the number of voters who will turn out to vote on polling day.

The rates of pre-poll voting and postal vote returns ahead of polling day were:

  • Bega – 29.4% of enrolled voters have cast a pre-poll and 21.3% returned a postal vote
  • Monaro – 23.1% of enrolled voters have cast a pre-poll and 15.3% returned a postal vote
  • Strathfield – 16.3% of enrolled voters have cast a pre-poll and 26.4% returned a postal vote
  • Willoughby – 9.6% of enrolled voters have cast a pre-poll and 28.1% returned a postal vote

To take Bega as an example. 50% of votes have already been recorded. With an expected turnout of 85%, that leaves only 35% of voters who can still vote today, and many of those won’t vote because their completed postal vote is in the mail system on the way back to the Electoral Commission.

All four electorates may struggle to reach more than 40% counted tonight. The NSW Electoral Commission will try to count all pre-poll votes, but will leave uncounted any pre-poll centre that is not completed by 10:30pm. There will be no counting on Sunday with uncounted pre-poll centres to be finished on Monday.

Postal votes will continue to be received by the Electoral Commission until Friday 25 February. There will be some initial processing on Monday and Tuesday of postals already received, but checking postal votes against in-person rolls won’t begin until Wednesday. Ballot papers will be extracted from declaration envelopes on Friday 18 February with the first actual count of postal votes to take place until Saturday 19 February. There will be two further postal vote counts in the following week.

There will be some counting of telephone, absent and new enrolment votes early next week, but these will not be large in number. If the result is close on votes counted tonight, we will have to wait until Saturday the 19th to have a clearer picture of the result.

By-election Swings

The NSW Coalition government has suffered massive swing against at it most by-elections since coming to office. Some of the swings are from big margins achieved at the 2011 and 2015 elections. Big wins leave more room for big swings at by-elections.

The only good result for the Coalition has been the Upper Hunter by-election in May 2021, the only by-election since the government’s more narrow re-election at the 2019 state election.

Change in % Vote
By-election Date Held By First Prefs After Prefs
Clarence 19/11/2011 NAT -6.0 -16.2
Miranda3 19/10/2013 LIB -21.5 -26.1
Orange 2,3 12/11/2016 NAT -34.0 -21.8
Gosford 8/4/2017 ALP -11.9 -12.3
Manly 1,2 8/4/2017 LIB -24.2 -14.0
North Shore 1,2 8/4/2017 LIB -15.3 -16.5
Cootamundra 14/10/2017 NAT -19.6 -10.0
Murray 2 14/10/2017 NAT -14.8 -19.3
Wagga Wagga 2,3 8/9/2018 LIB -28.3 -22.5
Upper Hunter 22/5/2021 NAT -2.8 +3.3

Notes: 1 – no Labor candidate, 2 – did not finish as a two-party preferred contest, 3 lost by Coalition. Miranda was won by Labor but recovered at the 2015 state election, Orange was lost to the Shooters Fishers and Farmers, and Wagga Wagga to an Independent.

Premier Perrottet will be hoping for single digit swings at today’s by-elections, not the massive swings suffered by the Coalition in its first two terms.

Federal Implications – Bega and Monaro

Monaro is contained entirely within the marginal federal Labor seat of Eden-Monaro. Bega is mostly within Eden-Monaro, with the northern part of the electorate around Batemans Bay in the marginal Labor seat of Gilmore. Retiring Bega member Andrew Constance lives in the Batemans Bay area and will be the Liberal candidate for Gilmore at the Federal election.

The table below has mapped Federal results for Eden-Monaro and Gilmore on the the state seats of Bega and Monaro.

2019 State and Federal Results Compared
Bega Monaro
Party Federal State Federal State
Liberal 37.2 48.9 35.3 ..
National 5.8 .. 8.9 52.3
Labor 39.4 30.6 40.4 27.2
Greens 9.8 9.8 8.3 7.9
Others 7.9 10.7 7.1 12.6
Coalition 2PP 47.7 56.9 48.6 61.6
Labor 2PP 52.3 43.1 51.4 38.4

The two elections were a mere seven weeks apart but produced very different results. Both Bega and Monaro would be marginal Labor seats on Federal results. The question is whether the Federal results are a better reflection of the two seats with the personal vote for Andrew Constance and John Barilaro removed.

Eden-Monaro was a three-cornered contest at the Federal election, so a better comparison is of the combined Liberal and National first preference vote with the single candidates at the state election. Exhausted preferences under optional preferential voting inflated the Coalition’s two-party preferred percentage in both Bega and Monaro in 2019.


The map below shows 2019 Federal results by polling places in Strathfield and the marginal Federal Liberal held seat of Reid. You can click on the boundaries for Reid in the top right of the map. Polling places shown below Reid’s southern boundary along the Hume Highway through Strathfield are from the safe Labor seat of Watson.

(Click on polling place for results)

As the map shows, Strathfield is the more Labor leaning part of Reid, most of the best Liberal polling place results lying north of Parramatta Road in the Canada Bay Council area.

In contrast to Bega and Monaro, Labor had a stronger result in Strathfield at the state election than it did at the Federal election. If there is a further swing to Labor at the by-election, it could give the party hope of winning Reid at the upcoming Federal election.

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