A triumphant Mike Baird claims he’s been handed a mandate for his controversial power sell-off plan after being comfortably returned as NSW premier.
Mr Baird confirmed his status as the Liberal Party’s golden boy by securing the coalition a second term in government despite the Labor reclaiming lost ground.
“We sought a mandate to make NSW great and tonight the people of NSW have given us that mandate,” Mr Baird told supporters at the Sofitel Hotel in Sydney.
“Tonight they have chosen hope over fear.”
The coalition lost 16 seats across the state with Labor picking up at least 13 – making it far more competitive for the 2019 election.
Opposition Leader Luke Foley said the result “breathed new life into state Labor”.
“We’ve gone from a rump in the state parliament to a real opposition,” he told supporters at the Lidcombe Catholic Club.
Labor regained a number of seats in its traditional western Sydney heartland and enjoyed big swings towards it in the Hunter and Illawarra.
The Greens were perhaps the big winners of the election, picking up Lismore and Ballina off the back of anti-coal seam gas campaigns, while fending off the ALP in inner city Sydney seats of Balmain and Newtown.
Mr Baird’s victory gives the coalition a vital morale boost after recent first term defeats for conservative governments in Victoria and Queensland.
He faced a tricky campaign amid ongoing leadership speculation in Canberra, strong anti-CSG campaigns in rural NSW and a raft of attack ads against his privatisation plans.
Labor even suggested in the dying days of the campaign that the electricity assets could end up in Chinese hands, risking the state’s security.
Mr Baird accused the ALP of waging the “biggest scare campaign” in NSW election history.
He said the government had lost some good MPs because of that campaign against the leasing plan, and warned Labor that it would not have it easy at the next election.
Meanwhile, Mr Baird’s campaign seems to have withstood the much talked about “Abbott factor”, with the unpopular prime minister keeping a low profile on the hustings.
Tony Abbott continued that trend on Saturday, spending the day in Victoria and Tasmania.
Senior federal MP Julie Bishop said the Liberals would be studying the NSW election result “very closely”.
Debate will now turn to whether Mr Baird has in fact won a mandate for his poles and wires plan.
Mr Foley on Saturday night made no mention of the leasing plan despite previously indicating he’d continue to oppose if he lost the election.
Labor elder Michael Egan, the state’s longest serving treasurer, earlier urged Mr Foley not to block the privatisation legislation in the upper house of parliament.
“I think (Mr Foley) should take a couple of weeks to reflect because the government will clearly have a mandate,” Mr Egan told ABC TV.
“Privatisation was a central issue of the campaign.
“It can’t be argued that they don’t have that mandate and I think the Labor Party has to look long term.”