13 Feb 2023
All eyes on the Upper Hunter: Labor looks to break the Nationals stronghold in key seat
All eyes on the Upper Hunter: Labor looks to break the Nationals stronghold in key seat

In 2021, it was Labor’s abysmal result in the Upper House by-election that led to Chris Minns taking the reins as NSW Opposition Leader. Now, less than two years later, the outcome in the Upper Hunter could determine if Minns becomes Premier.

Since the abolition of proportional representation in 1927, Labor has never held the Upper Hunter electorate, with the Nationals holding the seat uninterrupted for 92 years.

The Nationals’ Dave Layzell won the 2021 Upper Hunter byelection with an increased 5.8-point margin and was the first time in more than a decade that a government had a swing towards them in a by-election.

This election, however, the electoral redistribution has moved the seat into Labor-leaning areas, gaining Branxton and parts of Maitland and Cessnock. The new boundaries have reduced the Nationals’ margin to a mere 0.5 per cent, making it the third most marginal seat in New South Wales.

As of today, there are four candidates running in the Upper Hunter.

Sitting MP Dave Layzell is confident he can retain his seat. A former construction manager, Layzell lives in Clarence Town with his wife and four daughters. Mr Layzell made headlines in November after threatening to cross the floor and vote against the Coalition if it did not back moves to allow Port of Newcastle to build a container terminal[1].

Labor’s Peree Watson, a lifelong Upper Hunter resident, lives in Branxton with her husband and three children. Peree has worked in accounting, hospitality, management and journalism before moving to the not-for-profit sector.

Ms Watson believes that the coal industry and its role in the region will not be the dominant issue this election, stating “If we’re going to be making an impact and changing people’s lives in the Upper Hunter, we need to be talking about more than just coal.”[2]

Peree Watson will be focusing her campaign on equitable access to services in the Upper Hunter, including healthcare, education, employment and better infrastructure in electorate. Ms Watson has claimed that if Labor wins the Upper Hunter this election, they will form Government.

The 0.7 swing against the Greens in 2021 has not deterred retired science teacher and Greens Upper Hunter candidate Tony Lonergan from running on an anti-coal platform this year, claiming that the coal industry has “expanded unchecked, completely altering the landscape, polluting the air and fundamentally changing the social balance of the Upper Hunter”.

Independent Archie Lea is running again, after scoring 135 votes in the 2021 by-election. He is keeping a low profile, and does not appear to have a social media presence.


Following a pact with the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers (SFF) Party to not compete with each other, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation will not run a candidate in the Upper Hunter this year, however, with only 40 days until the election, the SFF is yet to announce a candidate in the electorate.

[1] https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/government-mps-could-cross-floor-over-controversial-port-penalties-20221010-p5bomv.html

[2] https://www.newcastleherald.com.au/story/8036636/labor-targets-upper-hunter-as-key-marginal-seat/

Article by Jackie Lloyd, Government Relations Associate at Primary Communication