The Berejiklian Government has moved through one crisis to the next ahead of the state election. (AAP: Danny Casey)
Stinking dead fish, a cracking high-rise tower and a raging debate about pill testing — 2019 is certainly not off to the start the New South Wales Government was hoping for.
Both sides of politics unofficially kicked off their election campaigns in January, hoping to give themselves the edge for the March poll, but almost immediately the Government hit a series of hurdles it never anticipated.
Hurdles one senior Liberal described to the ABC as “a perfect s***storm”.
On top of that, the Government is considering negotiating a multi-million-dollar settlement on the city’s beleaguered light rail, reversing its hardline stance against Spanish contractor Acciona.
The Government appeared slow to meet evacuees in the days after cracks began to appear in the Opal Tower at Sydney Olympic Park on Christmas Eve.
Locals criticised Water Minister Niall Blair’s handling of an ecological disaster unfolding on the banks of the Darling River at Menindee, as hundreds of thousands of dead fish washed ashore.
And around the state heated arguments about pill-testing continue to fill the airwaves, after the tragic deaths of five young people at music festivals over the summer.
On each of these issues the Government has been forced into crisis-management mode, constantly having to defend its handling of the issues as people demand to know why it hasn’t done more to prevent them.
The Government argues these events are largely outside its control — it can’t make it rain or force young people to stop taking drugs.
It says it’s doing as much as it can.
But the Coalition’s critics say it’s simply trying to shirk responsibility for failures in its own policies.
Focus now on selling ‘success stories’
Instead of talking about the shiny new election promises it’s been rolling out, the Government has spent all of January on the backfoot.
And most Coalition MPs fear that the ongoing internal divisions in the federal Liberal Party will continue unabated and further damage the party’s brand in New South Wales.
Many in the Government are still hopeful they’ll be able to get some clean air.
“Look, there’s no doubt it’s been a rocky start, but there’s not much we could have done about it,” one MP said.
“We just need to keep focusing on selling the Government’s success stories and try to seize the narrative.”
A Newspoll published this week in The Australian showed the Coalition and Labor tied neck and neck at 50-50 on a two-party preferred basis.
The Government can’t afford to have its good news stories frequently buried by negative headlines in an election race as close as this.
It has seven weeks to turn the headlines around.