In the weeks prior to the predictable demise of NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley, many in the Government had been worried that he was gaining traction and was on the verge of toppling Gladys Berejiklian in March and becoming Premier.
In simpler terms, the Coalition thought it was in trouble.
Despite a reasonably strong track record of delivering projects and infrastructure over the past eight years, the Government seems unable to shake off a number of lingering problems, including its reputation for backflips and the poor management of projects like the light rail and new train timetable.
Foley was gaining momentum as a result, in what was emerging as a classic case of the Government losing an election, not the Opposition winning one.
It is an interesting conundrum as most people I speak to are wary of giving the Government another four-year term yet have a strong admiration for Premier Gladys Berejiklian as a person and political performer.
While the fall of Foley – which many on the inside had seen as a matter of when, not if – gives the Opposition a chance to reset, it does the same for the Government.
Who will reset the better?
For Labor, Michael Daley is a strong choice to lead the party into the election. He came into politics later in life, meaning he doesn’t carry the weight of being a career politician, something that should work in his favour.
In fact, you can almost guarantee Labor will present him as the ‘family man from the suburbs’, not only because they know it plays well with the wider electorate but also because they know it’s something the other side can’t match.
The problem of course is that most people in the street have no idea who Michael Daley is. Unless you have a strong interest in politics, he is simply another bloke in a suit earning a good wage on Macquarie Street.
Labor’s mission to change that fact, with a busy Christmas period thrown in to disrupt and distract the election campaign, will be critical to their election chances.
As for the Coalition, ‘business as usual’ simply can’t be the plan. While Labor’s jockey may have changed, the issues confronting the government have not. This election was always going to play out as a verdict on the Coalition, so whoever is leading the other side is almost irrelevant.
The more Gladys Berejiklian can get out and about in the community, the better. She performs well when she’s in public, and won many fans in Penrith with the way she shut down protestors at the opening of the Yandhai Nepean Crossing a few weeks ago.
But the electorate needs clarity on some of the issues that continue to bug their day to day lives.
They want the lockout laws reversed so Sydney can produce a nightlife to be proud of again.
They want the Transport Minister held accountable for the terrible roll-out of the new train timetable, which has made getting to the city slower for Penrith commuters.
They want to know exactly what’s going on with tolls so they know how much simply driving to work is going to cost them every day.
In short, they want to be able to trust the government, and this government had struggled to earn that trust, particularly in the last couple of years.
Backflips of the past haven’t helped. Voters know this is a government that could change its mind no matter how strong its promises, which is a perception that Gladys Berejiklian and her team desperately need to overcome.
When all is said and done, I believe the Coalition will win the March election. Despite all the noise, the Government has delivered on much of its agenda over the past four years.
But it only takes one slip-up for things to change, and this is a government that has been prone to the odd misstep.
One thing you can be sure of is that nobody will work harder than Gladys Berejiklian between now and March. Her energy and commitment to the job has been somewhat under-rated.
As for Michael Daley, he is facing an uphill battle but if there’s one thing certain about politics it’s that nothing is certain. Anything could happen.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor. He has more than 15 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations.