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The debate is not over: UNSW’s political societies debrief the State Election

The presidents of UNSW’s political societies, Dan Magee (Labor), Pratham Gupta (Liberal) and Elie Christen (Greens), joined a panel discussion about the 2023 NSW state election on Monday, April 3rd. The night was marked by constant clashes and accusations, as participants sought to defend their respective parties.

Organised by the Politics, Philosophy and Economics Society (PPESoc), the debate was moderated by the club’s co-president Zainul Punjani. Going far beyond Labor’s victory, the discussion extended to the role of teal independents in the election, housing crisis and the Sydney Water privatisation controversy.

Labor’s victory and the balance of power in parliament

Magee declared that he was not surprised by the election’s outcome, having predicted a minority government at least two weeks before the vote. According to him, the Coalition was at a more competitive position in NSW than at the federal level in 2022, mostly due to Dominic Perrottet’s moderate record. In comparison, Magee declared that “Federal Liberals were fucked in the brain” during Scott Morrison’s reign in Canberra. 

Gupta admitted that he expected the Coalition to lose the state election. He recognized that there were “some failures” throughout the 12 years of Liberal-National government in NSW, but argued that cost of living crisis had a fundamental role in his party’s electoral defeat.

Commenting on Labor’s status as a minority government, Gupta claimed that Chris Minns should be “prepared to get bullied” by the Greens’ crossbench. The Liberal delegate went as far as calling the third largest Australian political party “childish radicals”. He warned that the Greens will hold the state government hostage, imposing their “expensive wishlist” of progressive policies and rejecting “all proposals they don’t agree with.”

Labor and Greens repudiated Gupta’s comments. They reiterated the important role of the crossbench to democracy, claiming that it presents a powerful check on the government. However, Magee admitted that the Greens had a quite long “wishlist” and that the fiscal implications of those demands would have to be evaluated. 

The UNSW Greens’ Ellie Christen defended her party’s use of its position as kingmaker in the new state parliament to push for “more ambitious” policies. She mentioned rent control, a complete ban on corporate political donations and the establishment of an indigenous state treaty as part of the Greens’ progressive agenda.

One of the few consensuses between participants was the failure of teal independents to reproduce the same “wave effect” seen in the 2022 federal election. The three agreed that conditions in the NSW 2023 race were less favourable to teals. In the participants’ view, the diminished attention given to climate change due to the cost of living crisis and Dominic Perrottet’s centrist rhetoric contributed to curb the growth of independents in the state. 

Housing crisis

Housing, one of the main concerns of NSW voters, was also discussed in the debate. Magee defended Labor’s plan to expand tenant’s rights, including a ban on “no grounds” evictions, portable rental bonds and a streamlined application process for renters with pets. Additionally, he praised his party’s plan to require 30% of affordable housing in new buildings. 

Christen drew attention to the similarities between the Greens’ and Labor’s proposals, concluding that her party had succeeded in making Chris Minns adopt their ideas. However, Magee rejected this claim, stating that strengthened rights for renters had always been part of Labor’s platform. 

Gupta reminded the audience that the Coalition had also committed to ban “no grounds” evictions. He maintained that the Labor and Green policies of “short-term assistance” would only “inflate the cost of living crisis”, while failing to fix the problem in the long-run. Gupta mentioned the stamp duty reform as an example of the Coalition’s effort to alleviate structural challenges faced by first home buyers.

Magee responded to his Liberal counterpart’s comments, arguing that Gupta was contradicting himself since the Coalition used “short-termist” tactics of its own. The Labor Club president referred to Perrottet’s electricity and toll relief measures as no more than “cashbacks” opportunistically announced on the run-up of the election. 

Privatisation of Sydney Water 

Closer to the end of the debate, the Sydney Water privatisation controversy was brought up, with Labor alleging that the Coalition had plans to sell the state-owned corporation were repeatedly denied by Perrottet. A report commissioned by the state government in 2020 discussed the possibility of privatisation. 

On the Liberal side, Gupta went to the defence of the unseated premier, declaring that Chris Minns employed “Trumpian-style campaigning”. According to Gupta, Labor purposely misrepresented the report from private consulting firms, stressing that privatisation was only one of the different options proposed in the document.

Magee rejected Gupta’s accusations that the Labor campaign had been dishonest. He claimed that the report’s language did not change the fact that the Liberal-National government had considered selling Sydney Water assets at one point. 

The Greens did not remain silent on this matter either. Christen went further than her Labor counterpart, saying that she had “no reason to trust Liberals” to keep their promise of not privatising the water-management company.