Pointing to swings of 10-20 per cent in parts of Western Sydney to Liberal candidates standing in the September 8 local council elections, media commentators are claiming traditional working class areas have deserted Labor and rejected the Greens, instead choosing to shift rightwards.
The Sydney Morning Heraldheadlined its September 10 edition: "Change in the air as Libs take over Labor strongholds." The previous day's Sunday Telegraph argued "Urban voters dump Greens." Seemingly drawing a similar conclusion, Greens NSW MP David Shoebridge said on September 9 "the electorate's mood was clearly conservative".
Such views fail to take into consideration the deeper trends underway in these working class and largely migrant areas. Rather, these claims are part of a campaign to further push politics to the right, and lay the basis of a new wave of attacks by the Liberal state government.
Liberals consolidate anti-Labor vote
There is no doubt the Liberals made important gains in Western Sydney, symbolised by the big victory for their mayor candidate in Liverpool, a traditional Labor area.
With a swing of 23.6 per cent, the Liberal candidate for Liverpool Mayor more than doubled the party's 2008 local council election result to 38,292 votes. But to argue that the rise in votes was due to a desertion of Labor voters has little basis in facts.
For one, the swing against Labor was much smaller (5.2 per cent) which in real terms meant it lost less than 2,000 votes. Clearly most of the new Liberal votes in Liverpool did not come from Labor. Instead, the votes mostly came from those who had previously voted for independent candidates.
The combined vote for the five independent candidates who stood in the 2008 mayoral elections surpassed Labor's vote, but this year the vote for independent mayoral candidates fell by more than 16,000.
A similar pattern was repeated elsewhere in Western Sydney.
The starkest example is Auburn, which despite the huge overall swing to the Liberals in the last state election, remained one of the safest state Labor seats. There, the Liberals council election vote more than doubled, from 3,734 votes to 7,709, in the process overtaking the Labor vote. But Labor's vote actually slightly increased from 6,827 to 6,993.
The rise in votes for the Liberals is largely explained by the implosion of Unity's vote, which fell by more than 3400.
The main factor behind the rise in the Liberal vote was its ability to consolidate the existing anti-Labor vote that was previously dispersed among other independents or centre/centre-right groups.
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