PREMIER Gladys Berejiklian has been viewed by many as an exemplar of good leadership throughout more than a year of grinding political pressure brought about by the COVID-19 crisis.
And there is little if any obvious sign of disunity within the Liberal Party side of the Coalition state government.
But with a fresh scandal in the form of sexual assault allegations against Kiama MP Gareth Ward - who has resigned his ministerial role and moved to the cross benches - the Berejiklian government is looking untidy at best.
Last year, the first gloss came off the Premier with the unsettling revelation of her five-year clandestine relationship with disgraced former Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire.
This year, on March 3, Drummoyne MP John Sidoti resigned from his ministerial position and moved to the cross benches amid an ICAC investigation.
At the end of March, Michael Johnsen resigned his seat over a sexual scandal, prompting Saturday's by-election - a contest now surely impacted by the controversy surrounding Mr Ward.
On paper, Labor had a good chance of seizing a seat that has been a National Party stronghold for generations.
However, in a development that should not have surprised the ALP, the selection of CFMEU organiser Jeff Drayton as its candidate has opened the door to another round of debate on the "coal casuals" controversy, with One Nation MLC Mark Latham - a former federal Labor opposition leader - accusing the union of being "way too close to the bosses".
With such a backdrop - and with 13 candidates on the ballot paper - the outcome on Saturday in a seat with a notional margin to the government of just a couple of per cent is anyone's guess.
Perhaps that's why, after Ms Berejiklian tried to temper expectations by saying last month the community could "see through a cash splash", Deputy Premier John Barilaro - supporting Nationals candidate David Layzell - arrived a week ago with $57 million in promises, saying it was not "pork barrelling" but the region's "fair share".
Others might say it's less than a fair share, given the $1 billion or more that flows each year to treasury coffers in coal royalties.
Every dollar is welcomed, but Upper Hunter residents have made it clear they want co-ordinated programs, more than piecemeal promises, to counter the gathering winds of change.
That's the challenge facing the new member for Upper Hunter.
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