The NSW election has thrown up its first significant local surprise for the South East as long-term former Member Steve Whan has comprehensively defeated Nationals incumbent Nichole Overall.
The ABC’s election analyst Antony Green called the seat for Mr Whan before 8:15 pm on election night with a predicted swing of more than 18 per cent at that stage. Postal votes are yet to be counted but can’t substantially affect the result at this stage.
Mr Whan was a late entrant in the race after the pre-selected candidate, and former Raiders captain, Terry Campese was felled by a sex party scandal that emerged only weeks ago.
NSW Labor leader Chris Minns spent time in the electorate this week, raising speculation that Labor thought the seat was winnable again.
Mr Whan represented Monaro in the NSW Legislative Assembly for the Labor Party from 2003 until his defeat by John Barilaro at the 2011 state election and then filled a casual vacancy in the NSW Upper House.
He is a former NSW minister whose portfolios included Rural Affairs and Primary Industry.
After leaving NSW Parliament, he spent several years as CEO of the National Irrigators Council. He is currently a director of Murrumbidgee Irrigation Limited and a member of the advisory committee for WaterTrust Australia, an independent policy think tank focused on Australia’s inland water resources.
Mr Barilaro was replaced in a 2021 by-election by Nichole Overall, whose husband Tim served as mayor of Queanbeyan for many years. He was subsequently enmeshed in a scandal regarding his proposed appointment as a NSW Trade Commissioner in New York.
Ms Overall won the seat comfortably with 46 per cent of the by-election vote and was regarded as a well liked local member with plenty of support and funding. However she may not have been strongly established enough in the seat to resist what looks like a substantial swing towards Labor state-wide.
Early in the night there have also been strong gains on the South Coast and an early swing in Goulburn, part of an unexpectedly strong regional showing for NSW Labor.
The Monaro electorate takes in Bungendore, Queanbeyan, Cooma, Bombala, Jindabyne and Braidwood and has a long history of switching between major parties, having been held by the party in power for 28 of the last 31 NSW elections.
Much of the seat crosses over with the federal seat of Eden-Monaro, where Mike Kelly and now Kristy McBain have done much in the past 15 years to cement Labor’s hold.
Mr Whan’s father, Bob, was a wool-classer who took the Federal seat for Labor in the 1972 “It’s Time” election. He was born in Canberra and is a longtime Queanbeyan resident whose children attended Karabar High where his daughter now teaches, and is widely regarded as one of the few State Labor politicians with deep rural credibility.
At 59, Mr Whan told Region several weeks ago that he still had plenty of gas in the tank, having spent the past few years bike riding and bike packing while keeping in touch with regional issues through his directorial roles.
More to come