Liberals fire off last-minute Howard mass mailout in western Sydney seats

The Liberals have deployed a last-minute mass mailout from former prime minister John Howard in Sydney’s west, including the key seat of Penrith, as they pin their poll hopes on a narrow Morrison 2019-style path to victory in which undecided voters ultimately stick with the government.

The Howard missive praised Premier Dominic Perrottet for “avoiding playing politics as usual” and developing a long-term plan for NSW, while condemning Labor’s Chris Minns as a risk who would cancel infrastructure projects and “make our state stall”.

Premier Dominic Perrottet with former prime minister John Howard at the party’s campaign launch on March 12.

Dean Sewell

Party sources indicated the Howard message was targeted at disaffected voters who may be flirting with backing minor parties in Saturday’s poll and for whom the former prime minister still carries a level of nostalgia.

Minns, meanwhile, spent Thursday campaigning in the marginal Liberal seat of Goulburn, which it has not held in 50 years but which may be in reach if the swing is on as polling and party strategists suggest.

A large cohort of undecided voters, a degree of “softness” among those who are leaning one way or another, and the unpredictability of optional preferential voting mean the major parties remain uncertain about many seats as they enter the final full day of campaigning.

As Minns traversed the outskirts of Sydney on Thursday, Labor sources said they were bemused by the government’s campaign tactics in the final days, with Perrottet visiting reasonably safe Liberal seats such as South Coast, Camden, Ryde and Drummoyne.

Labor leader Chris Minns (right) with Goulburn candidate Michael Pilbrow and MP Penny Sharpe on the campaign trail on Thursday.

Janie Barrett

The Coalition has all but written off the prospect of forming a majority but sees a best-case scenario where it wins the new seat of Leppington in south-west Sydney, fends off the teals in the north and can cobble together enough support from independents to form minority government.

Asked on Thursday to name seats the Coalition could pick up, Perrottet said Leppington was “crucial”, and somewhat facetiously named Kogarah, which is held by Minns on a margin of just 0.1 per cent, as another possibility.

Minns finished his day in Leppington, underscoring its importance to both sides. It is among a slew of western Sydney seats the opposition considers it has a strong chance of winning on Saturday.

Labor insiders are still eyeing off Holsworthy and Penrith, held by former minister Stuart Ayres, as less likely but potential wins they could claim.

Liberal strategists were hopeful that the large group of undecided voters would ultimately break their way, as occurred with Scott Morrison’s “miracle” victory in 2019. But they played down the likelihood of this happening evenly and in enough seats.

“There are too many contests that are flips of the coin … you need to pretty much have all the luck run your way,” one Liberal source said.

Campaigning in Drummoyne, held by the retiring former Liberal minister John Sidoti who was last year found to have engaged in serious corrupt conduct, Perrottet faced questions about why Liberal candidate Stephanie di Pasqua was still in Sidoti’s employ.

Di Pasqua confirmed she has continued to work for Sidoti despite the Independent Commission Against Corruption making its finding in July and Sidoti being suspended from parliament the following month. She has been on leave from the office since she was preselected in January.

“Stephanie worked as an electorate officer looking after the people of Drummoyne,” Perrottet said. “That’s what electorate officers do every single day and that’s what Steph has done.”

Sidoti won the seat from Labor in the 2011 landslide and had maintained a healthy 13.6 per cent margin.

Perrottet also stopped in the neighbouring seat of Ryde, where sitting MP and minister Victor Dominello is also leaving politics. He held the seat by 8.9 per cent.

Former Liberal premier Mike Baird said on Wednesday night he has become more optimistic about a Coalition minority government supported by conservative independents and those who are keen on poker machine reform.

“The weakness and where it will be won or lost is in the north-west [of Sydney],” Baird told an SEC Newgate function. “If they hold up for the Libs they may well be on their way back to government.”

Former Labor leader John Robertson told the same event he believed Labor would win Parramatta, East Hills and Riverstone, but may struggle to overcome Ayres’ popularity in Penrith. Wollondilly and Port Macquarie were also seats to watch, he said.

“I think Labor by one is possible but not on Saturday night,” he said.

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