The Nationals’ David Layzell is on track to defy history and hold Upper Hunter for NSW’s coalition government in the crucial by-election.
There were still votes to tally when the counting stopped late on Saturday but NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro is confident Mr Layzell is going to claim victory.
“It was the whole world versus Dave Layzell and tonight the booth counts have come in and we’ve been rewarded with the support of the people and the voters of the Upper Hunter,” he said on his Facebook page.
Mr Layzell has not claimed victory.
But former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull congratulated the National Party on Twitter for retaining the seat. He said it was a tribute to the great work of NSW Liberal government through the pandemic.
The major parties have been sweating on the result, which could have pushed the Berejiklian government into minority, or increased pressure on Jodi McKay’s position as opposition leader.
Her position has been under pressure and a failure to win could push her leadership to the brink.
With more than 30,000 votes counted late on Saturday, Mr Layzell was polling above 30 per cent of first preference votes, with Labor’s Jeff 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.
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 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, who have held the seat for more than 90 years.
“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.