A year ago the Federal election saw the return of the Coalition government.
Most polls and pundits expected a Shorten victory. In fact Labor's primary vote went backwards by 1.4 per cent.
In the Hunter, only Sharon Claydon in Newcastle could claim she did no worse than the national trend, also losing 1.4 per cent of her primary support.
The ALP held all its seats in the Hunter but the political tectonic plates may be shifting.
Meryl Swanson in Patterson saw a drop of 5 per cent in her primary vote. Pat Conroy in Shortland reached double figures with a 10 per cent fall in his first votes and Joel Fitzgibbon fell off a political cliff with a 14 per cent shrinkage in primary votes.
The Liberals can't claim credit for all of this. Small parties also carved off votes from Labor.
The Hunter usually votes red with the notable exception of Bob Baldwin ably representing Patterson for many terms and state Liberals briefly holding Hunter seats after the 2011 landslide.
It is a fair question to ask is this a trend or a blip caused by a particularly hollow ALP campaign in 2019? The answer is likely to be multi-layered.
The national ALP messages were problematic for its sitting MPs. Shorten's straddling of the barbed wire fence over its position on the coal industry, mining and regional jobs just didn't cut it for Hunter voters.
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Those wanting an end to the industry generally voted Green. They were unlikely to support the two major parties. Labor MPs didn't have the courage of their convictions and paid the price.
Today those Hunter MPs are forming parliamentary group hug alliances; touring mines; pledging their interest in Hunter mining jobs but making no meaningful impact on Labor policy. Sydney and Melbourne Labor MPs call the shots and continue to barely mask their disdain for regional lives and livelihoods.
The Liberal candidates in Shortland and Paterson also did an effective job highlighting the impact of Labor Treasury spokesperson Chris Bowen's determination to switch off franking credits as a means for retirees to support themselves, which is a big issue around Nelson Bay and parts of Lake Macquarie.
If there is one incontestable political maxim, that is Hunter Labor MPs don't make Labor policy, at a state or federal level. One of my enduring frustrations in my role as former parliamentary secretary for the Hunter was getting ALP representatives to stand up for major projects and infrastructure in the Hunter.
Joel Fitzgibbon deserves credit for his part in the Hunter Expressway. After that it was lean pickings.
One of the biggest opportunities for the Hunter is the extension of the M1 Raymond Terrace link. It has enormous potential for freight productivity improvements and eliminating light traffic bottlenecks.
Local Labor state MPs rarely mentioned it and wouldn't match state funds for planning. Labor's Federal MPs had to be dragged kicking and screaming to match the Liberal $1.6 billion commitment to fund this vital piece of infrastructure.
A few months prior to the federal election, the NSW Liberal Hunter candidates in the state election promised $780 million to redevelop the John Hunter Hospital. The red team belatedly followed with a matching promise.
Why? Is it lack of interest? Is it lack of punch in their parliamentary teams. The track record of Labor in the Hunter is as reactive followers, not leaders.
The Liberal Party still has a way to go before cementing itself in the Hunter. But the Hunter is changing. There are more small businesses; unions don't run the town anymore; its economy is diversifying; Liberal aspirations to 'have a go' are resonating; Liberal state and federal governments back the region with long overdue infrastructure in the face of political opportunism; Liberal state and federal leaders have demonstrably more empathy for regional communities, industries and challenges.
Less than two years from now the next federal election will be underway.
Going by their past performance, Hunter Labor MPs will be emerging from hibernation. They'll be casting around for catchy ideas. The media releases will start rolling out from the electorate offices.
Or we could all hold them to account. What do they stand for? Do they represent inner Sydney or their local communities?
Which of the projects identified by the Committee for the Hunter will they pledge to fund? Now. Not five minutes before the next election.
Voters will again have the opportunity to make the Hunter marginal, even diversified in its representation.
The Hunter would be the winner.
Scot MacDonald is the state Liberal Party's former parliamentary secretary for the Hunter
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