Scott Morrison’s road to victory in the next federal election runs through New South Wales.
And despite the tensions between the federal government and Gladys Berejiklian’s NSW Liberals that have seen in recent months as Morrison’s home state lost its “gold standard” status on COVID-19, the Prime Minister will feel Berejiklian’s loss sharply.
Berejiklian’s departure also shines a spotlight on the federal government’s failure to establish an independent corruption watchdog, more than four years after Malcolm Turnbull said he be open to such a body and more than 1,000 days after Morrison promised to do so.
Aside from the early days of the pandemic, when Berejiklian and Victorian Prime Minister Daniel Andrews teamed up to force Morrison to move further and faster on the initial lockdown, the outgoing Prime Minister and Prime Minister were largely on the same page.
Both were well aware of the impact of lockdowns on the economy and were in favor of tightly targeted restrictions – at least until the Delta variant gained a foothold. Both argued for Australia to reopen to the world as soon as possible.
Now Morrison has lost his top state ally in Berejkilian and the three most senior and experienced heads of state are all Labour, in Andrews, Annastacia Palaszczuk in Queensland and Mark McGowan in Western Australia.
These last two in particular have repeatedly shown that they are willing to go their own way in reopening borders and managing pandemics in general.
All three state prime ministers would favor Anthony Albanese in the Lodge after the next poll, which is due next May, but is likely to be earlier. And with elections approaching, those Labor Prime Ministers are unlikely to be doing the Prime Minister any favors.
And that’s a big potential problem for Morrison. Not only does he have to win seats in NSW to regain a working majority in the lower house in the next poll, he must also be careful not to lose seats when the coalition is already at a high water level, with 11 out of 16 seats in WA and 23 out of 30 in Queensland (there are few seats are expected) change ownership in Victoria).