Upper Hunter by-election, 2021

Cause of by-election
Sitting Nationals MP Michael Johnsen resigned his seat not long after his party leader John Barilaro called for him to step down in wake of accusations of rape and of sending inappropriate messages while sitting in the parliamentary chamber.

MarginNAT 2.6%

Geography
Northern NSW. Upper Hunter covers rural areas to the northwest of Newcastle. It covers all of Dungog, Gloucester, Muswellbrook and Upper Hunter local government areas, most of the Liverpool Plains council area, the populated parts of the Singleton council area, and parts of Great Lakes and Mid-Western areas. The seat’s major centres are Singleton, Muswellbrook, Scone and Dungog.

History
Upper Hunter has existed since 1859, with the exception of a decade around the turn of the century and three terms in the 1920s. It elected a single MP from 1859 to 1880, two MPs from 1880 to 1894, and single-member since 1904. The seat has been held by the Country/National Party continuously since the early 1930s. The last time it was held by the ALP was for six months in 1910.

Sitting Nationalist MP William Cameron died in 1931. Under the coalition agreement between the Nationalist Party and the Country Party, Upper Hunter was allocated as a Nationalist seat. Local Country Party branches supported Malcolm Brown as an independent, without the official support of the party. While the Nationalist candidate won the most primary votes, but Brown won the seat on preferences. After his election he joined the Country Party officially. Brown held the seat until his death in 1939.

The 1939 by-election was won in D’Arcy Rose, also of the Country Party. He held the seat until his retirement in 1959.

Upper Hunter was won in 1959 by Leon Punch. In 1962, he shifted to the seat of Gloucester. A contested preselection saw himself and another Country Party candidate both stand for Gloucester, but Punch won easily. Punch was elected Deputy Leader of the NSW Country Party and became a minister in 1973. In 1975 he was elected leader of the National Country Party, a role he held until his retirement in 1985. He also served as Deputy Premier from 1975 to 1976.

Upper Hunter was won in 1962 by Frank O’Keefe, who had held Liverpool Plains since 1961. His old seat was abolished in the redistribution. O’Keefe held Upper Hunter until 1969, when he resigned and won the federal seat of Paterson. He held Paterson until its abolition in 1984.

Col Fisher won the 1970 by-election. He served as a minister from 1975 to 1976, and retired in 1988.

George Souris held Upper Hunter for the National Party from 1988 until 2015. He served as a minister from 1992 to 1995. He was elected deputy leader of the NSW National Party in 1993, and served as National Party leader from 1999 to 2003.

Nationals candidate Michael Johnsen won Upper Hunter in 2015. He was re-elected in 2019, and resigned in early 2021.

Candidates

  • Kirsty O’Connell (Independent)
  • Archie Lea (Independent)
  • Eva Pears (Liberal Democrats)
  • Dale McNamara (One Nation)
  • David Layzell (Nationals)
  • Tracy Norman (Independent)
  • Steven Reynolds (Independent)
  • Sue Abbott (Greens)
  • Jeff Drayton (Labor)
  • Calum Blair (Sustainable Australia)
  • Michael Dello-Iacovo (Animal Justice)
  • Sue Gilroy (Shooters, Fishers & Farmers)
  • Kate Fraser (Independent)

Assessment
The circumstances of Johnsen’s departure won’t be helpful to the Nationals, but the current political environment may be favourable to the incumbent government. Labor, One Nation and the Shooters will be eyeing off this seat, so the order of elimination could be crucial

2019 result

CandidatePartyVotes%Swing
Michael Johnsen Nationals 16,49234.0-4.9
Melanie Dagg Labor 13,90028.6-3.9
Lee WattsShooters, Fishers & Farmers10,69722.0+22.0
Tony Lonergan Greens 2,3204.8-0.7
Mark EllisLiberal Democrats2,1514.4+4.4
Calum BlairSustainable Australia1,0772.2+2.2
Claire RobertsonAnimal Justice9612.0+2.0
Richard StrettonChristian Democrats9271.9-0.2
Informal1,7013.4

2019 two-party-preferred result

CandidatePartyVotes%Swing
Michael Johnsen Nationals 19,34152.6+0.4
Melanie Dagg Labor 17,45647.4-0.4

Booth breakdown

Booths in Upper Hunter have been split into six areas, based on council areas. Polling places in the Dungog, Liverpool Plains, Singleton and Upper Hunter council areas have been grouped together by council area. Those in the former Gloucester and Great Lakes council areas (now Mid-Coast Council) have been grouped as ‘Gloucester-Stroud’, while those in the Muswellbrook and Mid-Western council areas have been grouped as ‘Muswellbrook’.

The Nationals won a majority of the two-candidate-preferred vote in four out of six areas, ranging from 52.9% in Dungog to 65.3% in the Liverpool Plains. Labor won 50.9% in Muswellbrook and 54.9% in Singleton.

Voter groupSFF prim %NAT 2PP %Total votes% of votes
Singleton15.445.16,35813.1
Upper Hunter35.261.14,94510.2
Muswellbrook23.649.14,0318.3
Dungog16.752.93,8838.0
Gloucester-Stroud14.455.02,5175.2
Liverpool Plains23.565.31,9884.1
Other votes21.453.17,52415.5
Pre-poll22.851.917,27935.6

Election results in Upper Hunter at the 2019 NSW state election
Toggle between two-party-preferred votes and primary votes for the Nationals, Labor and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers parties.

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32 COMMENTS

  1. SF&F surely in the box seat if they pre-select a good (farming more so than shooting) candidate. Suspect Nats will get smashed.

    Will be interesting to see if Greens run at all. Can/will Libs run a candidate? That + a good SF&F candidate could see Nats vote collapse completely.

  2. @Wombat Greens were quite active in parts of the seat a few years ago, but it didnt pan out. For example in Gloucester, they had an 11% swing against them in 2019 compared to 2016 at those booths (federally) with Julie Lyford leaving the party. The factional drama from 2017-2019 hit hard here and it will take a very long time to recover. People concerned about fracking, water etc. are more likely to vote 1 shooters.

    I suspect the Greens will still run. Usually they preference Shooters below Nats, and so their presence may make it harder to take the seat off Nats (beyond just OPV factors). Labor here are Joel Fitzgibbon Labor, so Green->Labor flows might also be weaker than usual in OPV.

  3. Dumb question from a west Aussie. Does Scone (the town) rhyme with “phone” or with “gone”?

  4. I don’t see how ”the current political environment will be favourable to the incumbent government”
    The pandemic won’t save the government in a seat they hold if it’s on a small margin because governments almost always get swings against them at by-elections. And remember this is held by the Nats not the Liberals.

    John Barilaro and the Nats have ran into issues and controversies in recent months like the Koala issue and this scandal of their own. They even lost an MP that defected to the Libs. The Shooters will win if the Nats come 3rd due to preferences. If Labor come 3rd shooters win. If Shooters come 3rd Labor would likely win. The only way the Nats win is if the Shooters don’t run or the Shooters candidate does something illegal like using a machine gun.

    I can see the Coalition getting this back in 2023 but not this time. And that poll showing Labors primary vote collapsing is fiction, There wasn’t even a TPP on that poll and there was a HUGE number of undecides.

  5. You’re so confident, Daniel.

    Not every by-election produces a swing against the government. Yes there’s a good chance there will be this time but every other incumbent state government has gained ground, sometimes a lot of ground.

    I’m not sure it’s that important if it’s a Nationals or Liberal seat. There’s no way to vote for or against the Liberal Party in Upper hUnter, you’ve just got the Nats.

  6. The tragedy of the Upper Hunter continually voting Nats has resulted in farmers being forced off their land, air quality is a national disgrace, they have no plans for just transitions and really do not care about climate change.

    Hunter Renewal and the recent Hunter Jobs Summit brought together interested parties across the UH region to look at what transition to renewable energy and other industries that are less carbon intensive looks like. There is a huge need to assist those mining communities to move forward as the demand for coal diminishes, as it will progressively happen. I feel there is a huge need for progressive and inclusive voices in this election – to accept that whilst the coal industry will continue to decline, the need to bring those affected communities together to work towards sustainable industries and liveable places (air and water quality being serious health issues) is paramount.
    There are already great strides being made in these areas through Hunter Renewal and BZE ongoing inclusive dialogues – what we need are more of those voices – we do not need more decisive rhetoric from the Libs/Nats/Labor/One Nation camps who are totally in thrall (financially and power structure wise) to the Minerals Council.

  7. Divisive rhetoric I meant to say! Ah spellcheck!
    The issue of the financial grip and therefore power cloud over Labor and Libs/Nats held by the Minerals Council needs to be really put to the fore.
    When they tried to order Rob Stokes to create a policy to remove Scope 3 emissions (Rocky Hill judgement) from planning decisions (the policy looked a lot like the letter from the Minerals Council to Stokes) in 2019 through the Territorial Limits Bill, everyone present at the inquiry saw how influential the MC are in UH politics and Australian politics in general.
    It is a disgrace and a diminishing of our democratic processes that communities need to be informed about.
    I hope that very strong light is directed at the sordid politics and distorted power that holds sway over much of the policy making and internal machinations of those within the government policy machine.
    We need to move forward with transparent public service involvement and trust in our institutions to care for the people, their places and the planet.

  8. I’m tipping a ffs gain or more unlikely a labor gain. I think one thing is certain that nationals & liberals will not keep this seat. What does everyone think about one nations chance of gaining this seat? One nation did extremely well in the federal seat of hunter.

  9. This is looking very unpredictable. The betting odds have fluctuated a lot over the last week & the Nats now into $1.50 favourite after being $5 yesterday!

    Coal will be the biggest issue for sure, but knowing the region and with a lot of family/friends here involved in the coal industry, I think the reduction of this issue to a binary yes/no is very condescending to locals. Most can see and recognise it is a sunset industry, but the Nats are at odds with the Libs about energy transition and Labor doesn’t seem to have any articulated policy. And SFF have a ludicrous standing policy to build two new coal power plants. I expect it to be a very even three-way primary vote with preferences deciding it again by a very small margin.

    Interesting that the success of ONP in 2019 was largely down to the candidate standing as a spokesman for coal workers not the coal industry (and the candidate building his own profile over a long time, not just riding off Pauline’s coat tails) – the Labor candidate might speak for some of these disaffected workers, but they really lack the depth & talent on the front bench to prosecute an alternate policy platform.

    Also worth noting that ONP’s really big gains in 2019 were in major booths around Cessnock and closer to the fringes of Newcastle, which are not part of this electorate.

  10. Ben, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on how having ON on the ballot this time around will impact SFF’s vote. Looking at booth-by-booths, it seemed to me that a not-insignificant proportion of the SFF vote at the 2019 state election moved across to ON at the federal poll a few months later.

    I know it is dangerous to draw too many conclusions from elections at different levels of government, but it seems like significant factor that will potentially have a big influence on SFF’s ability to get into the final runoff.

  11. Second hand report on UComms poll with usual caveats. SFF in 5th seems pretty unlikely but the idea that SFF and One Nation might each other applies at least in this poll.

    Nats 38.5
    ALP 23.9
    Green 10.1
    Onat 13.8
    SFF 8.2
    Others 5.6

  12. 10% Green vote in a seat that’s a mix of coal mining towns and Nat voting farming areas? A 5% swing towards the Greens? I have a hard time believing that. They peaked at 8.5% in 2007 on a 3 candidate ballot paper. Even the presence of byelection regulars will significantly chisel away at the potential Green vote.

    The Greens used to have some presence in Gloucester and the Liverpool Plains fighting against proposed mines, but you don’t hear much about that any more. Even at its peak the Lock the Gate vote didn’t go all that strongly to the Greens outside of hippie tinged Ballina and Lismore.

    Anyway in OPV I don’t see Labor winning off that primary.

  13. Ucomms poll…. Why would the nats who caused the by election… Boost their vote by 4% would expect at least a 10% drop. Also I question what extent one and sff vote are interchangeable…..? The problem is what is the order of the last 3 alp Nat and sff. That is why is hard to pick

  14. Seat-by-seat polling in state elections is always a bit dodgy… given the small number of electors, it’s tricky for pollsters to get a representative sample.

  15. Candidates so far

    Nats: David Layzell
    SF&F: Sue Gilroy
    Labor: Jeff Drayton
    LibDems: Eva Pears
    Greens: TBC
    One Nation: TBC
    Others: TBC

    I think SF&F remain in box seat. Interesting to hear talk of Mark Latham running, but I think it’s just some free publicity more so than a genuine move to switch houses. Would definitely throw a cat among the pigeons though for primaries, exhausted votes and exclusion order.

  16. MQ
    Agreed. He has bigger fish to fry. Besides Gilroy has most likely got this. Her only threat is the unpredictable outcome of an increasing field of candidates .

  17. @ Luke

    You started so well !!. Then this :
    “Coal will be the biggest issue for sure, but knowing the region and with a lot of family/friends here involved in the coal industry, I think the reduction of this issue to a binary yes/no is very condescending to locals. Most can see and recognise it is a sunset industry, but the Nats are at odds with the Libs about energy transition and Labor doesn’t seem to have any articulated policy. And SFF have a ludicrous standing policy to build two new coal power plants.”

    Putting aside all the baseless anti-coal diatribe, & dogma.
    NO.
    COAL IS NOT THE ISSSUE.
    The experience of voters in feeling abandoned & unrepresented is obviously, & without any doubt the biggest issue. How could anyone think otherwise after just about the most volatile, & savage swing in electoral history (in Hunter 2019 ). You mentioned Cessnock, check out Muswellbrook etc.The result was shattering.

    The point is that this region is feeling beleaguered, & they are still reacting.
    BTW Describing,dismissing, an industry that IS INCREASING
    PRODUCTION,
    SALES,
    PROFITS
    REVENUE
    ETC
    as “a sunset industry,” is just hilarious, for any number of reasons.

  18. Greens have nominated Sue Abbott. Let’s hope the people of the Upper Hunter can vote against new coal mines, transitioning training for workers away from coal which has been so heavily mechanized to reduce employment. Such wonderful farming lands lost forever for short term gain . It would be great to see investment in renewables and the protection of land, air and water. How about new Industries like Taiwan (an island with similar population) who outperforms Australia on its employment levels, industry and had we followed them would have done so much better with COVID.
    2 party system has no forward thinking!

    https://australiainstitute.org.au/report/polling-upper-hunter-moratorium-on-new-coal-mines-in-the-hunter/?fbclid=IwAR01WJ8d2S4519AdXBlgdd2Qv6-yWlmIZ75krvugIL4j5p747nz0bwG720A

  19. sff have positioned them selves more as rural independents. alp does best in Muswellbrook and Singleton and Dungog is Marginal. This is looking more and more like Wagga where there was a huge primary vote swing against the liberals and where it was an own goal too……. it is possible that the nats poll 3rd….. out of Alp, Nats and sff. If so then with exhausted preferences who knows.The order is very important….,…….. If there is close to a 3 way split for what I call the big 3…… who may poll 90% between then then the remaining 10% and there exhaust rate could determine the order. I would pick a certain National party loss.

  20. More second hand stuff for which I do not have the link and in which SFF is fifth

    Polling: Upper Hunter – Moratorium on New Coal Mines in the Hunter
    April 13, 2021
    MEDIA RELEASE
    Upper Hunter Polling: Majority of Voters Agree with Turnbull Call for Moratorium on New Coal Mines

    The majority of voters (57.4%) in the NSW state seat of Upper Hunter support former PM Malcolm Turnbull’s call for a moratorium on new coal mine approvals and a remediation plan for existing mines for the Hunter Valley.

    The Australia Institute surveyed a nationally representative sample of 686 residents in the NSW state seat of Upper Hunter during the nights of the 7th and 8th of April 2021.


    Majority support for moratorium on new coal mines in the Hunter was observed across most voting intentions, Nationals voters 54.1% support, Labor voters 69.8% support, Greens voters 91.3% support, Shooters Fishers & Farmers Party 56.7% support.


    PV

    The Nationals 35.4%
    The Labor Party 22.0%
    The Greens 9.3%
    Pauline Hanson’s One Nation 13.0%
    Shooters, Fishers & Farmers 7.6%
    Other / Independent 3.7%
    Undecided 9.1%

  21. This Australia Institute poll would point to the following order of exclusion and final count numbers not in brackets represent the parties shares of the original vote ( before exhaustion of preferences)
    NAT 36.9 NAT 37.4 NAT 38.9 NAT 39.4 NAT 45.0 ( 57.5) (+5.3)
    ALP 23.5 ALP 24.0 ALP 25.5 ALP 30.5 ALP 33.3 ( 42.5) (-5.3)
    ON 14.5 ON 15.0 ON 16.5 ON 16.9
    GRN 10.8 GRN 11.3 GRN 11.8
    SFF 9.0 SFF 9.5
    OTH 5.2 (E)

  22. Sorry, The Nats are not winning this, I don’t see One Nation giving them victory. The SFF are not doing that badly. What have they done to collapse?? If it is going to One Nation then why has the combined vote barely gone up?

    John Barilaro is hated because of that Koala scandal. I agree Labor won’t win this seat this time but to say that the junior government coalition partner gets a swing to them in this seat is ludicrous. I know Ben pointed out governments have got swings to them but I would like to remind him of Orange and Wagga-Wagga which happen to be rural seats like this one. If those 2 by-elections are anything to go by then the coalition has 0 chance here unless something big happens between now and polling day. SFF gain.

  23. @winediamond Coal sure seems to be an issue if not the biggest issue…

    this “anti coal dogma” is not my own, it is the common view of people I know very well, numerous coal miners and people who work in the Port of Newcastle – which by the way was only able to refinance its debts on the proviso that it moves to diversify away from coal, so the banks do see it as a sunset industry, however profitable it is right this very moment.

    It’s not a matter of being pro or anti coal (but I appreciate that keyboard warriors like to operate in a binaries). If you ran a business and knew there was a growing likelihood that in the future people would start buying less of what you were selling, you would at least start to plan for that day, I would have thought. You can still be pro coal but apprehensive about the chance that it might some day be a sunset industry, especially if all your eggs are in that basket.

    I suppose your definition of a sunset industry depends on when/if you accept the inevitability that night follows day, AND perhaps your inclination to accept science and economics.

  24. @Luke
    Sorry no pass. You neglected to comment on what i raised as the fundamental issue, (Political, & representative neglect) BTW that is on topic. Instead we went back Off topic re coal. However i’ll respond anyway.

    A common view is no more correct than another. The world is in the process of wasting trillions of dollars on expensive & inadequate energy technology. So be it. History demonstrates many instances of mass delusion.
    The only tangible & factual result from this 3 decade idealogical indulgence, is the quadrupling of energy, & water costs in this country. Sensational!!. What a clusterf….!.Doubling again in the next decade ?. Who knows ?

    Mate you are so totally wrong about Port of Newcastle. The CEO of ANZ politicised, & dismissed a business case, on a basis of personal belief, perhaps under pressure from union dominated industry super funds. Either way he should have been sacked. His job is to see that his bank lends money safely & profitably, NOT to lead idealogical crusades.

    The NAB had no problem whatsoever taking the business. There were no conditions of future “diversification”. However there are EXISTING business plans (diversification) but to misrepresent them as conditional was completely fraudulent. To typify this whole debacle in any other way was false misleading, & deceptive . ie fraudulent. Didn’t stop the media though did it ?

    My point about coal is that the coal mining business is very healthy on every measurement, & it will be for the next 3- 4 decades. “sunset industry’ ?? How many industries WON’T be a “sunset industry’ ? Genetic/biological technology advances will almost be beyond imagination, just for starters.
    You raised a question about business purpose, & strategy. Successful businesses develop, maximise, concentrate, & expand their CORE BUSINESS. Trouble starts when they get distracted…..! Amazing how there are so many misconceptions about this …usually from people with no real experience of business.
    Consequently typifying an industry with a 2-3 decade horizon of expansion, or hyper expansion if the current delusions are exposed, as a “sunset industry ” seems pretty wild.

    That is a business, & economic basis. As for science.. When scientists stop lying, denying, & misrepresenting heaps of stuff that i know about, then i’ll start being less sceptical. UNLIKELY that will happen in MY (this ) lifetime..
    cheers WD

  25. I am tipping the SFF candidate to win, the Nationals don’t support Australian jobs, they don’t support our Farmers and wasted over $1 Billion on the new Sydney Light Rail and by signing off on selling Water Rights to the Chinese, that should be for our Farmers.

  26. Joel Fitzgibbon on SKY tonight confirmed nearly everything i said about Newcastle Port.
    Hilariously Fitzy a “sparkie” (by trade ) said the emissions reduction targets mandated (for the deal), involved little more “than the changing of a few old light bulbs”!!.
    His obvious appreciation of this absurdity, & conflation evidenced by his difficulty in containing himself, & not collapsing with laughter.

  27. I’m starting to think this is a National retain but only narrowly. The Nationals have shot themselves in the foot in the past year especially the leader and by no means a by-election win for them means an endorsement of them rather Labor is doing terrible right now and has lack of appeal but also the Shooters have lost support since the state election and seem to be quite low profile in the midst of COVID.

    National vs Labor and SFF and PHON may help them to get a swing to them however it is completely possible the Shooters win an upset victory if they claim 2nd place and win via Green and Labor preferences. PHON will also assist them but not as dearly as the other 2 parties.

    NAT hold.

  28. I also feel that SFF have not performed since COVID. Look at their results in QLD & WA. I thought they would come second in Pilbara but they won less than half their 2017 vote instead. In the 2020 QLD election, Southern downs, one of the most rural state districts in the country had a shooters vote of less than 5%.

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