What will wall-to-wall Labor mainland states mean for NSW, and the country?

Saturday’s NSW election won’t just decide whether Dominic Perrottet’s Liberals claim four more years in power, or if Labor’s 12 years in the political wilderness comes to an end.

If Chris Minns’ opposition wins, there will be wall-to-wall Labor governments at state and federal level on the Australian mainland, with Tasmania as the Liberal outlier.

NSW Labor leader Chris Minns and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on the campaign trail in Balmain.

Brook Mitchell

The result will therefore have ramifications for how Australia is governed, and, if history is any guide, the future of other state Labor governments across the country.

And while it might seem obvious that wall-to-wall Labor governments would open the door to thrash out deals on thorny issues such as health and hospital funding, infrastructure, climate policy and perhaps even the GST beckons, that isn’t necessarily so.

When John Howard was elected prime minister in March 1996, every state and territory except NSW had a Liberal government, by the time Howard left office every single state and territory was Labor. It didn’t hurt Howard or the premiers too much, either – sometimes it’s handy to be able to blame the other guy.

Howard warned at the outset of the 2007 election campaign that, if Kevin Rudd was voted in, “we will have a Labor government in power at every level in Australia for the first time since federation” and urged Australians to give him another three years as a check on state Labor governments.

Australian voters ignored him, Rudd won easily, and for the first time in history there were wall-to-wall Labor governments.

Rudd promised a new era of co-operative federalism and reform that would solve everything from surgery waiting lists and disputes over water allocation in the Murray-Darling basin, through to harmonising OH&S laws and ending federal-state duplication.

But as with Howard after the 1996 election, state governments paid the price.

Five Labor governments – in Western Australia, Victoria, NSW, Queensland and then the Northern Territory – lost power during the Rudd-Gillard years.

Former NSW premier Morris Iemma argues times have changed and says research shows a growing cohort of voters like having governments of the same political hue in Canberra and in their home state.

Former NSW premier Morris Iemma.

Brook Mitchell

“The standard idea that people like governments of different colours, that’s changing. You can see that clearly in Victoria, and you can see that emerging in NSW now too,” he says, adding that this doesn’t apply to more parochial states – namely Queensland and Western Australia.

A federal Labor government working with a NSW Labor government would offer “significant opportunities”, he says, noting Minns, Albanese, Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen, and Industry Minister Ed Husic are tight.

Iemma recalls the near-year of all Labor governments making progress on health reform and climate policy and says that if that is repeated on the mainland it would assist “the speed of the transition in decarbonising the economy”.

“Second, in re-establishing a manufacturing base, the Albanese-Husic agenda is very much aligned with Chris Minns ‘Made in NSW’ agenda.’”

There would be greater alignment on infrastructure spending, too, he argues.

The Victorian Labor government had for years fought for more infrastructure funding from the former Liberal government and was regularly snubbed. The election of Albanese changed things immediately, with $2.2 billion promised for Premier Daniel Andrews’ signature Suburban Rail Loop project in federal Labor’s first budget.

But Colin Barnett, the Western Australian Liberal who broke through the red wall of Labor governments in 2008, highlights the disadvantages of state and federal governments being from the same party.

“What I observed was the power that federal Labor had to impose its will on Labor premiers. I was the one exception,” he says.

And if Minns is elected on Saturday, Barnett warns “federal Labor will start dictating whatever they want to the states”.

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

Dean Sewell

Barnett recalls Rudd briefing state premiers on his planned mining tax – which played a significant role in his eventual downfall – and cites the episode as an example of how a state government of a different political persuasion can protect state interests.

“Rudd started the meeting by announcing the MRRT and all the Labor premiers agreed with it. I got on with Rudd, but I said ‘PM – WA will never agree to that’,” Barnett says.

Another example, according to Barnett, is of the pressure brought to bear on then-Victorian Labor premier John Brumby to back Rudd’s proposed hospital funding reforms. Brumby initially resisted the funding model change, alongside Barnett, but “the exertion of pressure on Brumby over hospitals was blatant and brutal” and eventually the Victorian folded. Brumby was contacted for comment.

Denis Napthine, a former Victorian Liberal premier, argues that state and federal governments from opposite sides of the aisle can work together effectively and strike deals.

“I think when you get wall-to-wall governments from one side or the other, then there is often a stifling of genuine debate or discussion. It’s healthy to have robust competition between states, and it’s healthy to have robust competition between states, territories and the federal government,” he says.

“I did the NDIS agreement with Julia Gillard, I did the Gonski agreement with the Rudd government and got a good outcome.”

Conversely, Napthine says that in the 2014 state election, having Tony Abbott in power in Canberra may have cruelled his chances of a second term. “The ads were my face morphing into Tony Abbott’s face – so clearly Labor thought it was an advantage to them.”

Craig Emerson, a former federal cabinet minister in the Rudd and Gillard governments, was minister assisting the finance minister on deregulation and worked closely with state governments. He says it was easier for the federal ALP to work with wall-to-wall Labor states because “you could have slightly more candid conversations”.

But Emerson also says the federal government didn’t have everything its own way, and even something as seemingly straightforward as harmonising state laws to recognise electricians’ qualifications across state borders was hard work.

“Queensland was hard going on that one, they had their tradition and approach,” Emerson recalls, which meant sparkies from NSW could not simply cross the border to work.

“Just because we were a federal Labor government, that didn’t necessarily mean they would do it.”

Almost a year since the federal election, Anthony Albanese’s personal standing with voters remains strong according to published opinion polls, as does support for the Labor. It’s unlikely the prime minister will hinder Minns’ chances of unseating Perrottet.

And if Minns wins, there could be an opportunity for Labor and the states to rapidly pursue policy reforms that might be too difficult with divided governments.

But Perrottet will be hoping that when NSW voters step into polling booths on Saturday, the presence of a Labor prime minister – and Labor premiers across the mainland – may just sway enough voters minds to give the Liberal incumbent four more years.

And a few Labor premiers may also be more than a little nervous that Albanese’s presence in Canberra could stack the deck against them in forthcoming state elections.

( Information from politico.com was used in this report. Also if you have any problem of this article or if you need to remove this articles, please email here and we will delete this immediately. [email protected] )

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