THE NSW donation scandal has helped hand Labor two morale-boosting by-election wins in the state's Hunter region.
NEWCASTLE councillor Tim Crakanthorp and Lake Macquarie mayor Jodie Harrison were victors in Newcastle and Charlestown on Saturday and have pledged to restore trust in their new electorates.
The seats were vacated in August after the resignations of Liberals Tim Owen and Andrew Cornwell, who admitted to the Independent Commission Against Corruption of receiving banned donations.The Liberal Party decided not to run candidates in either by-election as an act of "atonement" over the ICAC revelations.The widely expected result takes Labor's lower house seat tally to 23 - still well short of the 47 needed to form government.It does however give the Labor Party some extra momentum as it prepares for the March general election.Opposition Leader John Robertson declared victory about two hours after polling closed."Today the people of the Hunter have put their faith back in Labor and we will never let them down again," he told a rapturous crowd of ALP supporters at the Premier Hotel in Broadmeadow.Mr Crakanthorp said the traditionally safe Labor seat of Newcastle would never be taken for granted again."Today we showed the Liberals that Newcastle is a Labor town," he told the crowd.Ms Harrison credited her victory to hard work and "honesty" with people in the electorate."(We've shown) that this is Labor heartland. This is where we live. We are Labor people and we have good, strong policy to support the working people of the Hunter," she said.Mr Robertson noted Labor had now won three by-elections in a row, including last year's victory in Miranda in Sydney's south."Our job now is to keep our foot on that accelerator and keep working just as hard from now until March to make sure we give these Liberals the message that they deserve," he said."And that is that they have miserably let down people in the Hunter and right across the state."Ms Harrison's victory was by far the more comfortable, having gained almost 50 per cent of the first preference vote by 11pm.Labor's Newcastle win was less convincing, with the party's first preference vote only improving by about six per cent from the 2011 result.Prominent businesswoman Karen Howard appears to have picked up most of the conservative vote, with an impressive 26 per cent of the first preference count.Palmer United Party backed independents Jennifer Stefanac and Suellen Wrightson posted disappointing single digit first preference results.The pair didn't officially run as PUP candidates as the party missed a deadline to register itself for the 2015 election.