Saturday's NSW election is forecast to be a cliff-hanger as Labor tries to convert an anticipated swing against the government into a parliamentary majority.
Electoral fireworks have been few and far between in the Hunter since the Coalition swept to power 12 years ago. The region boasts the safest Labor seat in the state and a host of other Labor-held electorates with double-figure margins.
The main focus in the Hunter on Saturday will be whether the Nationals hold Upper Hunter after a boundary redraw whittled down Dave Layzell's already thin margin to just 0.5 percentage points.
Today the Newcastle Herald examines the state of play in each of the region's nine electorates.
CESSNOCK (Labor 19.7% margin)
Former teacher, CanTeen charity manager and Port Stephens Council employee Clayton Barr has represented Cessnock since 2011. That looks unlikely to change on Saturday, especially after the Nationals disendorsed candidate Ash Barnham following revelations he had made unsavoury Twitter posts several years ago. Labor has promised to build a new high school at Huntlee to serve families in the Cessnock and Upper Hunter electorates. One Nation will hope plant mechanic Quintin King's candidacy can deliver votes for the party in the upper house, especially after a visit by leader Mark Latham on Wednesday.
CHARLESTOWN (Labor 13.1% margin)
Former Lake Macquarie mayor Jodie Harrison has held the seat since a by-election in 2014 and is now shadow minister for women, seniors and prevention of domestic violence and sexual assault. Lake Macquarie Liberal councillor Jack Antcliff is among a very small field of three challengers.
LAKE MACQUARIE (Ind 23.2% margin)
Long-time crossbench MP Greg Piper is arguably the region's most effective politician, especially after a term of government in which he has recorded wins on voluntary assisted dying and the Newcastle container terminal. The former Lake Macquarie mayor again shapes as a kingmaker after the election if either major party needs help to form government. Labor has picked barrister and former Newcastle Herald journalist Stephen Ryan to contest the seat with a view to Piper's possible retirement in 2027. The Liberals have drafted in a young party member from Sydney, Joshua Beer, to run.
MAITLAND (Labor 14.7% margin)
Labor's Jenny Aitchison was elected to Parliament in 2015 and is one of five Hunter MPs in the shadow ministry. She should have little trouble on Saturday despite questions raised during the campaign about her receiving donations from the private bus industry. Liberal challenger Michael Cooper is a teacher and former Maitland citizen of the year. The Liberals have held Maitland more often than Labor has in the past 80 years, but a boundary redraw has shed the seat of Bolwarra, Lorn and Largs and increased Labor's already healthy margin.
NEWCASTLE (Labor 17.5% margin)
The inner-city electorate is another Lower Hunter seat the Coalition has shown little interest in contesting seriously since ICAC announced the results of its inquiry into illegal developer donations to successful Liberal candidates in 2011. Liberal hope Thomas Triebsees has conducted a low-key campaign, leaving Greens councillor John Mackenzie to take up the cudgel against incumbent MP and shadow minister for skills, TAFE and tertiary education Tim Crakanthorp. The Greens came out swinging when upper house MP Abigail Boyd predicted the party could turf Labor out of Newcastle in four years' time, as it did last year in three federal Brisbane seats. The Greens won 16.7 per cent of the Newcastle primary vote in 2019, still 10 points behind the Liberals, but will hope for a marked improvement after a high-profile campaign. Crakanthorp has secured a $21 million Labor commitment to sand renourishment at Stockton beach, one of very few promises from either side in the Lower Hunter.
PORT STEPHENS (Labor 5.8% margin)
Labor's only marginal Hunter seat should be a target for the Liberals, but the party only endorsed former Hamilton Business Chamber president Nathan Errington as its candidate hours before nominations closed. Former lawyer Kate Washington has held the seat for Labor since 2015 and is now shadow minister for family and community services and disability inclusion. Labor has promised $53 million for a new high school for Medowie if elected, an investment Washington has pursued for years. One Nation has been active on pre-poll voting booths in this seat, too.
SWANSEA (Labor 10.6% margin)
Former Lake Macquarie council librarian and Anthony Albanese staffer Yasmin Catley is another MP who won back a seat for Labor in 2015 after the party's annus horribilis four years earlier. Catley reclaimed the Swansea territory lost by her husband, Robert Coombs, in 2011. The shadow minister for the Hunter also holds shadow portfolios in customer service and digital. Catley, then deputy Labor leader under Jodi McKay, was forced to sack a staffer in 2021 after a dirt file emerged on now-leader Chris Minns. Liberal candidate Megan Anderson was forced to defend herself after being overheard at a community event saying she didn't believe in climate change. She later told The Guardian that it was a "clumsy joke" in response to a previous speaker.
UPPER HUNTER (Nats 0.5% margin)
The third-most marginal seat in NSW shapes as a game-changer for both sides, though Dominic Perrottet and Chris Minns have spent little time in the electorate during the campaign. Perrottet made only a quick stopover in Dungog last month to announce a toilet block and Minns has not been in Upper Hunter at all. Senior Nationals ministers have been on hand, however, to help MP Dave Layzell, who has secured $100 million for Scone hospital, $20 million for Scone racecourse and a host of smaller commitments. A nominal post-redraw distribution of votes from 2019 puts Labor's Peree Watson slightly ahead of the Nationals on first preferences, but preference flows from former One Nation candidate turned independent Dale McNamara and Shooters, Fishers and Farmers hope Mark White could decide the result. The Shooters won 19 per cent of primary votes in the electorate in 2019, based on the redrawn boundaries. Labor's primary vote at the 2021 by-election, before the redistribution, was a woeful 21.2 per cent.
WALLSEND (Labor 25.8% margin)
Sonia Hornery holds Wallsend as easily the longest-serving Labor member (16 years) in the Hunter and the only Hunter Labor MP to have served in government. She is also custodian of the biggest margin of any Labor seat in the state. Party sources say prominent local party members are waiting somewhat impatiently for Hornery, who will be 65 at the next election, to retire. Liberal candidate Callum Pull has been making waves on Newcastle council since being elected in 2021.
- Tune in to the Newcastle Herald's election-night blog on Saturday for seat-by-seat Hunter results, analysis and reaction from a team of reporters out in the field covering the count. Go to newcastleherald.com.au or the Herald app.