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Voters in the NSW Hunter electorate are heading to the polls for a crucial by-election

Voters in NSW head to the polls for a crucial by-election – as Gladys Berejiklian’s government holds its breath

  • The Upper Hunter region of NSW is heading to the polls today for a by-election
  • Nationals MP Michael Johnsen resigned in March over sexting scandal
  • Now 13 would-be parliamentarians are on the ballot and anxiously waiting 

The Berejiklian government’s majority and NSW Labor leader Jodi McKay’s position is on the line as voters head to polling booths for a crucial by-election.

Polling stations in the Upper Hunter electorate opened at 8am on Saturday, with 13 would-be parliamentarians on the ballot.

Recent polling suggests the race will come down to Nationals candidate David Layzell and Labor’s Jeff Drayton, with a slim margin between them.

The Berejiklian government’s majority and NSW Labor leader Jodi McKay’s position is on the line as voters head to polling booths for a crucial by-election

Polling stations in the Upper Hunter electorate opened at 8am on Saturday, with 13 would-be parliamentarians on the ballot (pictured, Ms Berejiklian bumps elbows with a voter at Muswellbrook on Saturday)

Polling stations in the Upper Hunter electorate opened at 8am on Saturday, with 13 would-be parliamentarians on the ballot (pictured, Ms Berejiklian bumps elbows with a voter at Muswellbrook on Saturday)

Candidates have been falling over themselves to declare their support for coal, but Mr Drayton says he’s the only one backing coal workers too.

His final message to voters: ‘Give me a chance.’

On the other hand, the Nationals are asking for a second chance.

Their campaign has hinged on the need for stable government.

‘In 18 months (at the 2023 election), if we haven’t done a good job by then, of course, send us a message,’ Nationals leader and Deputy Premier John Barilaro said on Friday.

‘But now’s not the time.’

Ms Berejiklian and NSW Nationals leader and Deputy Premier John Barilaro react at a voting centre at Muswellbrook

Ms Berejiklian and NSW Nationals leader and Deputy Premier John Barilaro react at a voting centre at Muswellbrook

Ms Berejiklian during a press conference at the voting centre at Muswellbrook on Saturday

Ms Berejiklian during a press conference at the voting centre at Muswellbrook on Saturday

The stakes are high for both parties.

It’s a must-win election for the Berejiklian government, which will lose its working majority unless the Nationals hold the seat.

However, by-elections have historically proved difficult for sitting governments to win, so the poll is also an important test for Ms McKay.

Her position has been under pressure and a failure to win could push her leadership to the brink.

But with such a crowded field, neither party is likely to win the seat outright.

Preferences from other candidate are tipped to decide the contest.

Ms Berejiklian buys a sausage sandwich at the polling centre in Muswellbrook on Saturday

Ms Berejiklian buys a sausage sandwich at the polling centre in Muswellbrook on Saturday

Ms Berejiklian waves as she walks with Upper Hunter Nationals candidate Dave Layzell

Ms Berejiklian waves as she walks with Upper Hunter Nationals candidate Dave Layzell

Sue Gilroy is running for the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, while One Nation has chosen Dale McNamara. Both have touted coal mining credentials.

On the other end of the spectrum is independent and fifth-generation farmer Kirsty O’Connell, who has drawn the support of former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, and Greens candidate Sue Abbott.

Both are running on a promise to transition the area away from reliance on coal.

The poll was sparked by Nationals MP Michael Johnsen’s resignation in March over sexual assault allegations and a sexting scandal.

Mr Johnsen denies the allegations and has not been charged.

However, by-elections have historically proved difficult for sitting governments to win, so the poll is also an important test for Ms McKay (middle)

However, by-elections have historically proved difficult for sitting governments to win, so the poll is also an important test for Ms McKay (middle)

Labor candidate for Upper Hunter Jeff Drayton speaks to the media after casting his vote in the NSW Upper Hunter by-election in Muswellbrook

Labor candidate for Upper Hunter Jeff Drayton speaks to the media after casting his vote in the NSW Upper Hunter by-election in Muswellbrook

Nationals candidate for Upper Hunter Dave Layzell crosses his fingers as he greets voters on polling day in Muswellbrook

Nationals candidate for Upper Hunter Dave Layzell crosses his fingers as he greets voters on polling day in Muswellbrook

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk