Luis Feliu, Darren Coyne & Chris Dobney
The Greens’ Tamara Smith will be the next state MP for Ballina while National Party veteran Thomas George has just retained his seat of Lismore, after preferences were distributed at 10am today (Wednesday).
The returning officers for both seats declared the result of the poll in the two closely-contested seats 11 days after the election, with preferences playing a major role in determining the outcome.
Smith’s historic win
Ms Smith won Ballina with 53.1 per cent of the two-party preferred vote or 21,528 compared to 46.88 per cent or 18,996 for the Nationals’ Kris Beavis.
It is the first time in its history the electorate has not been represented by a National Party member.
Ms Smith, who is the first woman ever to hold the seat, was not present at the official preference count at the Ballina Returning Office.
So confident was she of victory that she was already at meetings in Sydney.
Indeed, the only candidate who was present was Mr Beavis, who immediately after the announcement distributed a pre-prepared concession statement.
The count was the first time the NSW Electoral Commission had run the distribution of preferences electronically and it was not without its hiccups.
The computer appeared to stall during the process of allocating the preferences of ALP candidate Paul Spooner, eventually spitting out a result after media hovered around the screen for more than 10 minutes.
Still, it was a comparatively short wait according to returning officer Ian Smith.
‘Normally it would take eight hours to do manually,’ Mr Smith said.
‘In this [new] process we entered the votes and check-counted them as we put them into the system, so they are all ready for distribution of preferences,’ he said before the count commenced.
‘Under the new system, one person enters the data and up to five scrutineers watch and count so they can estimate beforehand what the data flows will be.’
‘Gaming the system’
In his concession statement Mr Beavis said ‘I hope Tamara will be a strong advocate, balancing our environment of the Ballina electorate, while fighting for appropriate infrastructure, local businesses and local jobs.’
Asked after the count to what he attributed his defeat in what has always been a blue ribbon Nationals seat, he mentioned CSG, the personal popularity of outgoing member Don Page and the changing demography of the electorate.
‘If you filled a brush with green paint and drew it down a page from top to bottom, that’s how our electorate is beginning to look,’ he said.
But in a remarkable aside Mr Beavis also accused his three main opponents – Ms Smith, Mr Spooner and independent candidate Jeff Johnson– of ‘gaming the system’.
‘I think what we found… is that Labor and the Greens and Jeff Johnson had an arrangement where the preference flows were always going to come into effect. I was confident about the primary vote but at the end of the end of the day you’ve got a system that allows for preference flows and there was a bit of gaming there that allowed the other candidate to get over the line,’ he told Echonetdaily.
Ms Smith campaigned strongly, especially in the northern part of the Ballina electorate at Brunswick Heads and Ocean Shores where many young families live.
She backed residents opposed to contentious state government plans for Crown parks and foreshores at Brunswick Heads and supported upgrades for reserves, recreational facilities and open space in Ocean Shores.
George back in Lismore
But in Lismore it was a different story, and where initially the Green’ Adam Guise appeared to be winning the seat from incumbent Mr George with preferences flowing from Labor’s Isaac Smith, the Nats’ stalwart received a greater number of first-preference votes, which made it harder for him to be ousted.
After the allocation of preferences, Mr George received 21,654 votes, or 52.86 per cent, while Mr Guise received 19,309, or 47.14 per cent.
Following the result, Mr George told Echonetdaily that he was unable to give a rock solid guarantee that coal seam gas exploration would not go ahead in the northern rivers region.
‘I can’t make any guarantees in relation to that because the company that will still have a PEL is in court with us, however I can give this guarantee … that PEL 445, when we purchase it, it won’t be resold to anyone to cover this area again.’
Mr George dismissed criticism that the coalition government had not done enough to stop gas mining in the region.
‘People need to remember this. The Labor Party issued these licenses. We renewed them with a reduction from 50 per cent to 11 per cent,’ he said.
‘We’ve reduced the coverage of this state with PELs back to 11 per cent and they say we’ve done nothing.’
Meanwhile, Mr Guise said the election had been historically close.
‘This is a safe seat no more,’ he said.
‘Despite Mr George being re-elected on the narrowest of margins, the huge swing against the Nationals means Mr George must act for this community.
‘The Greens have demonstrated what genuine representation should be and the community expects integrity and vision from their member.
‘Mr George cannot be complacent in his role and must act immediately to ensure all gas licenses across the northern rivers are cancelled without compensation.
‘Personally, the last three years has been an incredible journey, and I thank everyone from the bottom of my heart for their support and the tireless work they have put into the campaign. I am deeply humbled by the support and good will shown to me by people across the political spectrum.
‘For a campaign run on a fraction of the budget of the old parties and without donations from coal seam gas companies, the Greens have shown what a grassroots, people-powered campaign can achieve,’ Mr Guise said.