NSW Nationals set to win crucial by-election for Upper Hunter seat

Relief for Gladys Berejiklian as Nationals are set to win crucial by-election – as bitter ex-PM Malcolm Turnbull says the mining-dependent region needs a ‘post coal future’ and congratulates losing candidate he backed

  • Nationals’ David Layzell has taken early lead in NSW Upper Hunter by-election
  • Mr Layzell has a ten per cent lead in the polls but results may take several days
  • The by-election contest has centred on the future of coal mining in the region
  • Former PM Malcolm Turnbull already offered his congratulations to Nationals
  • But said he was ‘proud’ to help Independent and called for a ‘post coal future’

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian is set to hold onto her razor-thin majority as the Nationals edge towards a crucial Upper Hunter by-election victory.

NSW Nationals candidate David Layzell has a ten per cent lead over Labor’s Jeff Drayton but the result of the election may not be known for several days.

Ex-Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has offered his congratulations to the Nationals but also praised Independent candidate Kirsty O’Connell on her efforts – despite there being no official announcement yet of the results.

He said he was ‘proud to lend a hand’ to Ms O’Connell’s campaign – which focused on finding an economic future for the region when its coal industry is no longer viable.

The New South Wales Nationals are set to win a crucial by-election for the coalition and regain the seat for the Upper Hunter (pictured is Nationals candidate David Layzell)

Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has already offered his support to Independent candidate Kirsty O'Connell

Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has already offered his support to Independent candidate Kirsty O’Connell

He also congratulated the Nationals but questioned their coal policy. The official result has not yet been announced

He also congratulated the Nationals but questioned their coal policy. The official result has not yet been announced

Mr Turnbull said he was 'proud to lend a hand' to Ms O'Connell's campaign. The two are pictured together

Mr Turnbull said he was ‘proud to lend a hand’ to Ms O’Connell’s campaign. The two are pictured together

‘Congratulations on an outstanding result as a first time Independent who only decided to run a month ago,’ he tweeted.

‘You have put the post coal future of the Hunter on the map in a way it hasn’t been before. Proud to have been able to lend a hand.

‘The problems caused by the unplanned expansion of coal mining have not gone away. The Hunter needs a plan for a post coal future.’

The Nationals have held the seat for 93 years in a region in the heart of coal mining in NSW.

With more than 30,000 votes counted late on Saturday, Mr Layzell was polling above 30 per cent of first preference votes, with Mr Drayton on 20 per cent.

The Nationals had held the seat by 2.6 per cent, before MP Michael Johnsen’s resignation over sexual assault allegations and a sexting scandal prompted the by-election.

The Nationals have held the seat for 93 years in a region in the heart of coal mining in NSW

The Nationals have held the seat for 93 years in a region in the heart of coal mining in NSW

Labor candidate for Upper Hunter Jeff Drayton and NSW Opposition Leader Jodi McKay are seen outside voting booths on Saturday

Labor candidate for Upper Hunter Jeff Drayton and NSW Opposition Leader Jodi McKay are seen outside voting booths on Saturday

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian arrives to support the Nationals candidate on polling day on Saturday

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian arrives to support the Nationals candidate on polling day on Saturday

Mr Johnsen denies the allegations and has not been charged.

The by-election contest has centred on the future of coal mining in the region, with the Greens’ Sue Abbott and Ms O’Connell wanting to move the region away from its reliance on coal.

But Labor and the Nationals have talked up their coal credentials, and Labor’s Mr Drayton is a former coal miner.

In a last-ditch appeal to voters, Mr Drayton said he would fix years of neglect suffered under the Nationals.

Both major parties are sweating on the results, which would push the Berejiklian government into minority (Ms Berejiklian pictured with Deputy Premier John Barilaro)

Both major parties are sweating on the results, which would push the Berejiklian government into minority (Ms Berejiklian pictured with Deputy Premier John Barilaro)

Nationals candidate for Upper Hunter Dave Layzell greets voters on polling day at the Muswellbrook Indoor Sports Centre

Nationals candidate for Upper Hunter Dave Layzell greets voters on polling day at the Muswellbrook Indoor Sports Centre

‘I’m ready to go – ready to go to Macquarie Street and fight for people of the Upper Hunter’s fair share,’ he said while campaigning on Saturday.

Labor has come close to winning the seat before, and hopes to rely on a history of by-election swings against governments.

But Ms Berejiklian pointed out the Nationals candidate is the only one of the 13 that would actually be part of the government if elected.

‘We do need a strong team in government (and) I do rely on great local members,’ she said alongside Mr Layzell in Muswellbrook.

‘As premier you’d like to think you’re in every corner of the state every day but you can’t be.’

Ms Berejiklian said they’d be ‘breaking the course of history’ if successful.

If the government loses Upper Hunter, it will have the tricky task of managing minority government until the next election, which isn’t due until March 2023.

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