In the final week before the state election, are voters even listening?

It felt more like last drinks at the office Christmas karaoke party than a pitch for fresh government at a Liberal party rally in one of western Sydney’s most at risk seats.

Blue T-shirt clad branch members singing and dancing to classic rock anthems such as and hardly screams “vision for NSW”. But here we are: state election 2023.

Liberal supporters and ministers at the NSW Liberal Party’s “Keep Western Sydney Moving” rally on Sunday.

Edwina Pickles

With just six days until polling day about 150 Liberal party faithful gathered on Sunday in the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre in Penrith, where incumbent former minister Stuart Ayres is fighting to retain the key electorate on a wafer-thin margin of 0.6 per cent.

Meanwhile, in Parramatta, Labor struggled to fill a small lecture theatre at Western Sydney University for leader Chris Minns’ final campaign rally.

The more subdued crowd of roughly 120 offered a couple of boos as they were played election ads attacking Premier Dominic Perrottet. About 10 per cent of the room was made up of either Labor MPs or candidates.

Labor’s Parramatta hopeful Donna Davis managed to introduce herself twice, before handing it over to deputy leader Prue Car, who in turn introduced Minns.

NSW Labor Leader Chris Minns joins Donna Davis, centre, candidate for Parramatta.

Dylan Coker

The Liberal rally, where Ayres and fellow western Sydney MP Tanya Davies warned of the “crisis” the region would face under a Labor government, had all the hallmarks of the hopeful presidential-style campaigning Perrottet’s team have embraced in this election.

Unfortunately, for the party pleading with voters for a historic fourth term of government, the event’s hype didn’t extend beyond the walls of the Penrith theatre, with just over 35 people tuning in to a Facebook live stream at one stage.

But for those in the room, the Liberal promise of “strong leadership” while “growing the economy” was guaranteed to trigger cheers, coming from the lips of party elder John Howard.

It’s more than 25 years since the former prime minister snatched three key federal western Sydney seats from Labor with double-digit swings at the 1996 federal election, thanks to the “Howard battlers”. And yet the 83-year-old is still the salesman the party must rely on in 2023.

(The hugely popular former premier Gladys Berejiklian is yet to stump up for the campaign in any official capacity.)

Supporters at the western Sydney rally with former prime minister John Howard, and Helen Perrottet with daughter Celeste (right).

Edwina Pickles

In a speech extolling his own success in 1996 and that of his government inheriting and paying off “Labor’s debt”, Howard said there was economic danger in a Minns state government, given the federal Albanese government was already in office.

“When I think of the Labor Party and economic policy … I’m reminded of a movie … ,” he said, warning of the dilemma that would occur “when they get control of treasury”.

Though it had nothing at all to do with the NSW government, Howard didn’t pass up the chance to mention the $386 billion AUKUS nuclear submarine agreement, “which was conceived, developed, promoted and is the deliverance of the former Liberal prime minister Scott Morrison”.

Perrottet took the stage to a standing ovation, and spoke of his government’s economic plan and infrastructure record, vowing to deliver lower taxes and a plan for the future.

Labor’s “final countdown” rally attracted about 120 people.

Dylan Coker

“We know that western Sydney is always better off under the Liberals,” he said, warning families will pay more under Labor: “They can’t manage money, so they come after yours.”

Perrottet revealed that his government would cap public transport costs at $40 a week rather than $50, potentially saving commuters up to $480 a year. The cap on Sydney’s already heavily subsidised public transport system was a sweetener to the voters of western Sydney, where the election is likely to be won and lost.

Back at Labor’s final rally, Minns drilled home his team’s core election commitments of scrapping the public sector wages cap, ending privatisation and improving staffing at state hospitals.

In a speech where he accused Perrottet of having a “total, unbridled, blind love” of privatisation, Minns promised to constitutionally recognise the state’s water utilities if Labor won next weekend’s election.

Time has run out on the 12-year-old Coalition government to improve conditions for workers, he said, adding Perrottet’s 3 per cent wages cap was a “failed ideological tool”.

As both campaigns enter the home stretch to polling day, they will hope a disengaged electorate can switch on long enough to buy their sales pitch for government. However, it’s hard to imagine many are paying attention to heavily branded, stage-managed party rallies in 2023.

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