How the NSW political map has changed and given the election an unusual twist

Byelections and seat boundary changes have given the upcoming state election an unusual twist: no party heads into the NSW election with a majority in parliament.

Premier Dominic Perrottet’s incumbent Liberal-National Coalition has a tally of 46 seats – two fewer than it won in 2019 and one short of an outright majority in the Legislative Assembly.

The starting point for Labor is 38 seats – two more than it won last time but still nine shy of a majority.

Another nine seats are held by crossbenchers, including three Greens.

While the overall number of seats up for grabs at the March 25 poll is unchanged at 93, there have been a raft of electorate boundary changes since the state last voted. That’s because seats are independently redistributed every eight years in NSW to ensure the number of voters within each electoral district remains roughly the same over time.

The latest redistribution, completed in 2021, has turned the Liberal-held seat of Heathcote from blue to red, at least on paper. The Coalition won the seat with a margin of 5 per cent under the old boundaries, but it now has a notional Labor margin of 1.7 per cent.

That change, along with the Liberal Party’s loss in last year’s Bega byelection, is why the Coalition must pick up seats if it is to be returned to government with a majority.

The Labor-held seat of Lakemba in Sydney’s central west has been abolished, and its voters split into other electoral districts. A new electorate of Leppington has been created on the city’s south-western fringe with a notional margin in Labor’s favour of 1.5 per cent.

Boundary changes have pushed some high-profile seats into the ultra-marginal category. They include the electorate of Kogarah, held by Labor leader Chris Minns, whose buffer has been sliced from 1.8 per cent to a wafer-thin 0.1 per cent. It’s a similar story in the Liberals’ most vulnerable seat, East Hills, where the margin is down from 0.5 per cent to 0.1 per cent.

Former Liberal minister Stuart Ayres is also under greater threat after his margin in the seat of Penrith was cut from 1.3 per cent to 0.4 per cent.

Another seat to watch is Parramatta where the Liberal margin has slipped from 10.6 per cent to 6.5 per cent.

The names of several Sydney electorates have been changed: Baulkham Hills is renamed Kellyville, Ku-ring-gai becomes Wahroonga, Mulgoa is renamed Badgerys Creek and Seven Hills is now called Winston Hills.

Only 10 electorates in the state will go to the polls with the same boundaries as in 2019.

Even so, Sydney University’s Professor Rodney Smith, who researches NSW politics, says the redistribution has not radically altered the electoral contest.

“The redistribution is not as dramatic as some in past years,” he said, but added that the lack of a majority party makes this “an unusual election”.

There is a strong possibility the election will deliver a hung parliament, meaning the new government must rely on crossbench support to operate.

“It’s difficult to see a clear path for Labor to win a majority,” Smith said.“But it’s also difficult to see where the Coalition will pick up the seats it needs.”

If the Coalition falls a few seats short of majority, Perrottet will be in a strong position to form government with the support of independents in the NSW lower house.

The Coalition has managed to govern for the past two years without a formal majority, after several government MPs were forced to join the crossbench following political scandals.

Labor’s task is more challenging – it needs a uniform swing of more than 6 per cent to win the seats it needs for an outright majority.

“I think it’s going to be hard for Labor,” Smith said. “I just don’t get the sense that there will be a large, statewide swing against this government.”

But if the ALP can snatch five or six seats from the Coalition, that may be enough for it to form government with the support of the Greens and independents.

While most attention will be on how the numbers fall in the lower house, the state’s 5.5 million registered voters will also elect 21 of the 42 members of the Legislative Council, the upper house of NSW parliament.

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