Steve Whan says his father, Bob – former wool classer, Member for Eden-Monaro and part of Gough Whitlam’s parliamentary class of 1972 – would have been pretty pleased with the NSW election results on Saturday night.
While there are 18,000 pre-poll and postal votes still to be tallied, it would take a substantial twist of fate to alter Mr Whan’s return to Macquarie St. With just over 50 per cent of the vote counted, he’s predicted to defeat Nationals incumbent Nichole Overall comfortably with a current swing of around 15 per cent.
Mr Whan is well ahead on primaries in all Queanbeyan booths and one of the two Googong booths.
As one of the few Labor MPs with significant parliamentary experience – it’s 20 years since he was first elected to Monaro – a senior role in the Minns government is also very much on the cards.
“There were a number of times on election night I wished Dad was around to see it,” he says of the strong swing towards Labor. “My 88-year-old Mum was there on Saturday night and she was pretty emotional too.
“Dad dedicated his whole life to public service. He worked until he was over 70, and though he would never have said it, he would probably have thought I was a bit lazy semi-retiring in my mid-50s!”
Mr Whan says the results are “very gratifying” after his late entry into the polls.
“I got a fantastic feeling from people during pre-poll and on the booths. I’m personally very grateful for the support and it’s a big change from what I thought I’d be doing a month ago!”
Mr Whan says Labor’s consistent message during the campaign was on staffing levels for schools and hospitals, and addressing local issues including the Bungendore High School controversy and the closure of Bombala’s Nursing Home.
“I wanted to get the focus onto long-term resourcing of critical services for the region. I don’t think the Coalition addressed that in Monaro and these are things that play strongly in people’s minds,” he says.
“A lot of people locally felt the Nats were a bit late to the party on those very local issues. They started late in government and tried to do a whole lot of things in a rush at the election.
“There was certainly an ‘It’s Time’ factor at play for the Perrottet government, and in Monaro that usually means people are aware of the change and want a member who will be in government.”
Mr Whan says that before he agreed to run, he had a discussion with Labor leaders Chris Minns about what role he would play in the government if elected. He is circumspect about how that will play out, but it’s clear a senior role of some kind is in the offing.
“It’s up to the new Premier to make those calls, but he did say that he wanted to use my experience and see me playing a role of some kind with rural and regional issues, primary industries and rural communities.
“I would be delighted if I could play a significant role there.”
Mr Whan will work closely with federal Member for Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain and the ACT Government. He intends to act quickly on the stalled Googong High School project and the controversy surrounding the Bungendore High School site.
Regional NSW, including the South Coast and South East, swung in behind Labor more strongly than expected. Bega MP Dr Michael Holland has significantly increased his vote, South Coast fell convincingly to Labor and Goulburn is down to the wire. Across the Region coverage area, independent Dr Joe McGirr increased his margin in Wagga and only Cootamundra MP Steph Cooke held onto her seat comfortably.
There will also be an increased number of rural and regional Labor representatives in the NSW upper house, the Legislative Chamber.