NSW Labor under scrutiny for prioritizing Shooters party in crucial seats

New South Wales Labour is facing criticism for directing preferences to the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party in a crucial marginal seat despite participating in a motion that denounced its leader, Robert Borsak, for an alleged verbal "threat of violence" against a female Member of Parliament.

Documents submitted to the NSW Electoral Commission reveal that Labour is instructing voters to prioritize the Shooters party in the Upper Hunter electorate in the upcoming state election on March 25th.

The Nationals currently hold this seat with a slim margin of 0.5%, making it one of the two lower house constituencies, along with Dubbo, where the Shooters hope to oust Nationals MP Dugald Saunders, that Labour has chosen to favor the minor party.

However, Labour is also directing preferences to the Shooters in 15 regional NSW constituencies for the upper house, either as the third or fourth preference. The party justifies this move by stating that it is necessary to prevent Mark Latham, the leader of One Nation, from becoming the influential figure in NSW politics.

Among these 15 constituencies is Murray, currently held by former Shooters MP Helen Dalton, who is now an independent. While the party has ranked Dalton as their second preference in the lower house, they recommend that voters in Murray place the Shooters party as their third preference in the upper house.

This development comes less than six months after Labour supported a motion introduced by Dalton in the lower house that condemned Borsak for his alleged remarks made in parliament concerning her.

A recording from a parliamentary debate in September captured someone, purportedly Borsak, stating, "he should've gotten up and clocked her."

Dalton claimed that the comment was directed towards her and subsequently tabled a motion in parliament condemning Borsak for making "a threat of violence."

The motion asserted that Borsak's "threat" constituted "hazardous workplace behavior" and called for him to apologize.

The motion received support from Labour MPs, including Kate Washington, the shadow minister for families and MP for Port Stephens, who emphasized the importance of creating a safe working environment for women and everyone in the parliament. During the debate, she stated, "Acts of violence and threats of violence against members in this chamber are completely unacceptable."

The fallout from this incident proved disastrous for the Shooters, leading to their two lower house MPs, Phil Donato in Orange and Roy Butler in Barwon, resigning to run as independents instead.

Labour's decision has been strongly criticized by Natalie Ward, the Coalition's minister for women, who believes that opposition leader Chris Minns "should clarify why he is supporting Robert Borsak when his own MPs abandoned the party due to his reprehensible treatment of a female MP.

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While the opposition hopes to witness the Nationals being replaced in Upper Hunter – one of the few regional constituencies where the conservative Shooters may still have an impact – Labor sources also assert that the decision was made to limit the likelihood of One Nation securing a second or third position in the upper house.

The potential of a larger representation from One Nation has increased due to the waning fortunes of other minor right-wing parties such as the Liberal Democrats and Fred Nile's Christian Democrats.

"That would grant Mark Latham significant influence in NSW politics – encompassing matters related to climate change, renewable energy, public education, anti-discrimination, and anti-racism policies," expressed a spokesperson for the Labor campaign.

"NSW Labor has provided preferences – without any reciprocation – in order to prevent the formation of an extensive crossbench majority in the upper house."

Both Labor and Borsak confirmed that there was no agreement between the two parties. Borsak declined to comment on the controversy from last year.

Election analyst Ben Raue stated that depending on the voting pattern in the upper house, the decision to rank the Shooters third and fourth in a few constituencies could benefit the party on election day.

While the majority of voters do not follow voting recommendations, preferences "do have an impact," he noted.

"In the last three elections, the final seat changed due to the flow of preferences favoring a particular candidate," he added.

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