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Newcastle Herald

Hunter Labor MPs poised to govern for first time as Australia votes to oust Coalition

Election Day 2022

Labor held on to the marginal seat of Hunter on Saturday night as the region's four members of Parliament contemplated governing the nation for the first time in their careers.

Five-time Olympian Dan Repacholi claimed victory late on Saturday night after Nationals challenger James Thomson failed to put a dent in Labor's slim 3 per cent margin.

Sharon Claydon held Newcastle comfortably with a nearly 4 per cent swing in her favour, Meryl Swanson won Paterson despite a 1.7 per cent swing to the Liberals' Brooke Vitnell and Pat Conroy claimed Shortland after a 1.8 per cent swing to Liberal Nell McGill.

The margins are all preliminary and could change as counting continues over coming days, but election analysts awarded victory to Labor in all four seats.

Election results: Coalition and Labor punished as early results point to independent wins in federal election 2022

Ms Claydon, Ms Swanson and Mr Conroy have spent their entire Canberra careers on the Opposition benches during the Coalition's nine-year reign, but Labor was poised late on Saturday to win enough seats to govern either in minority or in its own right.

"I hope it will be a very different Parliament to the one I've been in for the past nine years," Ms Claydon told the Newcastle Herald after claiming victory with a projected 17 per cent margin.

Labor's Dan Repacholi celebrates with supporters at Cessnock League Club on Saturday night. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Labor's biggest win in the region was in Joel Fitzgibbon's former seat of Hunter, despite vigorous campaigning by Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce in the electorate.

Mr Fitzgibbon retired this year after waging a war against his party's climate policies. He hand-picked Mr Repacholi to replace him, a move endorsed by Labor leader Anthony Albanese last year.

Some of the Hunter branch rank-and-file were livid at Mr Albanese's intervention, but Mr Repacholi, a former coal truck driver at Mount Thorley mine, proved a tireless and ultimately successful campaigner.

"I'd like to thank you voters for giving me this opportunity to represent you," he said.

"That's 128,000 bosses I've just got."

The Labor win means University of Newcastle will get a $16 million hydrogen and clean energy testing centre and the Hunter will have its GP Access After Hours service funding restored.

Cessnock Hospital will get a new urgent-care medical clinic, and Muswellbrook town square will receive a $10.5 million upgrade.

Labor also promised to fund upgrades to Mandalong Road at Morisset and honour the Coalition's commitment of $182 million for a hydrogen manufacturing hub at Newcastle port.

A permanent dredge for Swansea Channel and extending the Newcastle Mines Grouting Fund to Lake Macquarie were also among Labor's election pledges.

Perhaps most importantly, Labor promised $500 million during the campaign to start work on high-speed rail between Newcastle and Sydney.

One Nation's vote in Hunter was cut in half as Dale McNamara registered 10 per cent of the primary vote. It was a similar story in Paterson, where Neil Turner's vote was down from 14 per cent in 2019 to 8 per cent.

"I expected to take a hit because I thought the vote might have been spread among the other minor parties," he said.

Independent Stuart Bonds won 6.1 per cent of the vote in Hunter, well down on the 21.6 per cent of the primary he claimed in 2019 as a One Nation candidate.

Meryl Swanson celebrates her win in Paterson at Club Maitland City. Picture: Peter Lorimer

The Greens performed so well in Newcastle that candidate Charlotte McCabe claimed the party was now the "opposition" in Australia's seventh largest city.

Ms McCabe had 20 per cent of the primary, up five percentage points on 2019, and trailed the Liberals' Katrina Wark by only three points.

"We're now the opposition in Newcastle," she said.

"The Libs abandoned this seat while we engaged and listened. They barely campaigned, and they didn't have many people on the ground today."

The Greens were also poised to gain ground in Hunter (6.9 per cent in 2019 to 8.9 per cent), Shortland (8.3 per cent to 9.9 per cent) and Paterson (6.9 per cent to 7.3 per cent).

The Greens' national vote was up from 10.4 to 12.5 per cent. The party gained a second lower-house MP in the Queensland seat of Ryan and was ahead in nearby Griffith.

The Liberals were on track to lose six percentage points in Newcastle but chipped away slightly at Labor margins in Shortland and Paterson.

The Nationals' primary vote in Hunter grew from 23 to 26 per cent, but it was not enough to challenge Mr Repacholi, who grew the Labor primary slightly to 39 per cent.

The Liberal Party was left licking its wounds after losing a host of inner-city blue-ribbon seats, including mostly likely Treasurer Josh Frydenberg's Melbourne electorate of Kooyong.

Defence Minister Peter Dutton just hung on to his seat and remains a possible successor to Scott Morrison, who will leave a party with plenty of soul-searching to do.

Mr Morrison made a concession speech at 10.50pm, and the only question remained whether Labor would govern in its own right after a 2.7 per cent national swing in its favour.

Mr Albanese is poised to form government despite Labor winning only 31 per cent of the primary vote.