The party was targeting five Liberal-held marginal seats – Reid and Banks in Sydney, Page on the North Coast, Gilmore on the South Coast and Robertson on the Central Coast – and aiming to keep Lindsay in western Sydney after MP Emma Husar was dumped.
But Labor won only Gilmore through a 3.6 per cent swing to Fiona Phillips following disarray in the Liberal ranks that included Mr Morrison selecting high-profile Warren Mundine to stand over the pre-selected Grant Schultz.
And in Lindsay, as of Sunday evening a 6.2 per cent swing to Liberal Melissa McIntosh saw Labor’s Diane Beamer lose.
By Sunday night, the two NSW seats still in doubt were Macquarie, which Labor’s Susan Templeman was expected to win comfortably but only narrowly leads ahead of the Liberal’s Sarah Richards, and Wentworth, with Liberal Dave Sharma leading a tight contest against his byelection rival, the high-profile independent Kerryn Phelps.
The only other NSW seat to change hands was independent Zali Steggall trouncing former PM Tony Abbott in Warringah.
It was a stunning result for the Coalition considering how unlikely it seemed when the Prime Minister announced at Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s victory party in March that he expected to be back in weeks celebrating his own win.
“In two months from now, we will be celebrating another Liberal-National government being returned,” Mr Morrison said on March 23.
Despite the fracturing of the ALP’s reputation in the state, the federal leadership contest will be focused on Sydney with senior frontbencher Anthony Albanese the first to put his hand up for the leadership ballot vacated by Bill Shorten. Contenders are likely to be senior figures Tanya Plibersek, Chris Bowen, Tony Burke, and possibly Richard Marles.
“They’re all people who were backed in some time ago when we had a winning culture and a sense that you had to get good people in and have the right ideas and have a hunger and a drive,” a Labor source said of the contenders. “The new people we’re putting in were like Emma Husar and that was obviously a disaster.”
Former Labor senator turned TV commentator Sam Dastyari, who put the federal result down to a failed gamble that Labor could win seats in Victoria but not lose them in Queensland, said the concurrent state and federal leadership ballots could be ugly.
“The Labor Party has an incredible ability to not do its bloodletting behind closed doors,” he said.
Another senior Labor figure was dismayed by the party’s performance in NSW.
“We all had these high hopes for the state election and they were dashed,” he said. “We had all these high hopes for the federal election and they were dashed.
“That comes down to a very unhealthy culture in the NSW Labor machine that needs to be pretty fundamentally looked at. The NSW branch – the Labor machine – is broken.”
Garry Maddox is a Senior Writer for The Sydney Morning Herald.