Wagga wipe-out: Libs pummelled in election
THE Liberal Party is facing annihilation in the byelection in Wagga Wagga - a seat it has held for more than 60 years - with unprecedented swings of more than 36 per cent with more than a quarter of votes counted at 7.30pm.
First results from polls indicated early swings against the government.
At Talbingo Public School, a small booth of 121 votes, there was a significant 27 per cent swing against the Liberal Party.
Earlier, Labor supporters have been accused of dressing as independents in a bid to score preference votes from punters at the Wagga Wagga by-election.
The Sunday Telegraph witnessed supporters dressed in bright orange T-shirts - the colour of independent candidates in Wagga - at multiple polling booths across the electorate today, leaving the real independent supporters confused.
They were handing out flyers that read: "Voting independent? Number every square - put the Liberals last."
The voting material was authorised by Country Labor, which has also put up corflutes with the same message.
The underhanded tactics were seen at polling booths at Ashmont Public School, Kooringal Public School, South Wagga Public School, Lutheran Primary School and Lake Albert Public School.
When questioned by The Sunday Telegraph, one man wearing an orange shirt at Ashmont abruptly walked away and did not return.
It's understood some later changed back into red Labor T-shirts after they were caught out.
NSW Labor has been contacted for comment.
High profile independent candidate and frontrunner Joe McGirr did not comment on the claims, only saying there "must be hundreds" of Liberal and Labor poll workers in Wagga from across the state
This comes as Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack arrived in Wagga to step in to bat for the Liberal Party.
In a show of good faith - and apparent last-minute bid to win over Nationals voters - Mr McCormack handed out how-to-vote cards for Liberal candidate Julia Ham at Ashmont Public School this afternoon just hours before polls closed.
Asked whether his first preference would have been helping a Nationals candidate, Mr McCormack said: "I'm not handing out for a Nat - I'm handing out for Julia Ham, I'm handing out for the Liberal Party".
"The Nats aren't running and I can understand why the Nats aren't running - the Liberal party have held this seat in state parliament since 1957 and so Julia Ham is most entitled to run and as the Nationals Party leader federally I'm backing her all the way," he said.
"I handed out for the Liberal Party when John Alexander ran in a by-election in Bennelong and if there's only a Liberal candidate I'll always hand out for the Liberal Party," he added.
While the Liberal Party and Premier Gladys Berejiklian are bracing for the 12.9 per cent swing required to lose the seat, Mr McCormack was optimistic about the polling.
"We're not intending to lose the seat, we're intending to win the seat," he said.
"At the moment I'm getting a good vibe from the voters here on the ground. I've been at a few booths and heard what the voters are saying and it's all positive."
He also rejected rumours about Nationals candidates handing out voting material for independents, saying: "I haven't seen any of my colleagues handing out for independents."
The by-election has caused divisions between the Nationals and Liberals after Ms Berejiklian said there would be no three-cornered contest in the seat.
PREMIER GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN OFFERS SUPPORT
HOURS earlier Ms Berejiklian was also out helping greet voters, with the government facing a monumental uphill battle to retain the once safe Liberal seat.
But asked whether she would stay in the electorate to hear the end result - which could see the Liberals lose a seat they've held since 1957 - Ms Berejiklian simply replied: "Thank you."
There are fears the Liberal's once safe 12.9 per cent margin has been eroded amid a chaotic federal leadership coup and local corruption scandal damaging the party brand.
Ms Berejiklian briefly visited Sturt Public School this morning with Ms Ham, a Snowy Valleys councillor, but avoided speculation about what could be a disastrous result for the government.
"Our government's done so much in building infrastructure and services in this community and we want to be able to continue to do that so that's why we're urging people to continue supporting us," Ms Berejiklian said.
Asked how she thought the Liberals would poll, Ms Berejiklian said: "I'll leave that to others but it's a struggle."
Ms Ham said she was feeling "as confident as I can be" but struggled to provide a coherent answer on major issues facing the electorate.
"That's why you want to be a good local member so that you can find out," she said.
"Listen, find out - health, roads, education, infrastructure."
The government has attempted to pave the streets with gold by promising more than $100 million for the seat during the campaign.
But Labor claims the "pork barrelling" has failed to resonate with disillusioned voters.
A loss would deliver a significant blow to the government because it would reduce the number of seats needed to force Ms Berejiklian into minority government from seven to six.
Opposition leader Luke Foley joined Labor candidate Dan Hayes at the local Scout Hall to watch the Wagga City councillor cast his vote.
"It's one of the safest conservative seats in NSW … I'm a realist, I've been around a long time but what I can say with a great deal of satisfaction is the Labor people in Wagga have run a terrific campaign," he said.
"Labor's back in Wagga and if there's a big swing against the Liberals it tells you a lot about the performance of Ms Berejiklian and her colleagues."
Mr Hayes said former disgraced Liberal MP Daryl Maguire "broke the trust" of the people in Wagga, adding the by-election was an opportunity to rebuild it with a new face.
But he also admitted he wasn't sure if that face would be his.
"People have been lining up early and for me that's an indication that they're ready to vote, they're ready to make a change," he said.
"Where that change will go it's still tough - we've got a big battle ahead of us for the rest of the day but come 6pm we've left everything on the table and we'll see what the results are."
Liberal senator and former military leader Jim Molan was handing out flyers for Ms Ham at Turvey Park Public school.
He said it was "too early to tell" whether the chaos in Canberra would have a flow on effect at the polls in Wagga this weekend.
"My view is that the righteous feelings many Australians felt that we are being self-indulgent is settling down but we've got to prove it," he said.
Simon, 42, and Nicole Wishart, 37, supported Liberal candidate Julia Ham at the polls this morning but said they would have preferred to vote Nationals.
The Nationals Party backed out of running in Wagga to avoid a three-cornered contest.
"We voted for the Liberals because they support infrastructure building," said Mr Wishart, a construction worker.
"Normally we would have voted for the Nats - I can understand why they didn't couldn't run but was disappointed nonetheless."
Mr Wishart said he wasn't a fan of disgraced former Mr Maguire but didn't see why it should impact his vote.
"It was an individual decision what Daryl did," he said.
Mum-of-two Michelle Kornacki, 33, said she supported Labor's Dan Hayes.
"Just with what Daryl Maguire did I think it's about time we had a change in our local government anyway," she said.