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Labor concedes defeat in crucial NSW by-election

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

Labor candidate Jeff Drayton has conceded defeat in the Upper Hunter, as the Nationals’ David Layzell sured up his lead during this morning’s count.

The Labor candidate for the Upper Hunter, Jeff Drayton, has conceded defeat in yesterday's crucial by-election, as Nationals candidate David Layzell strengthened his lead during this morning's count.

Labor's Mr Drayton phoned Mr Layzell to congratulate him on his election victory.

"Obviously, David and I don't agree on many things, but we both have the best interests of the Upper Hunter at heart," he wrote in a statement.

With 56.1 per cent of the vote counted, Mr Layzell is tipped to secure 56.3 per cent of the vote after preferences compared to Mr Drayton's 43.7 per cent.

Mr Drayton noted that Labor had always faced "an uphill battle" to win the seat, which has been held by the National Party for 90 years, but also acknowledged failings by his party.

"Our result yesterday, particularly in Singleton, is a warning to Labor that we can't take any community for granted," he said.

READ MORE: What the Upper Hunter byelection means for voters

Nationals candidate David Layzell the morning after winning the seat of the Upper Hunter, pictured with NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro

"Working class communities are hurting and they're turning away from this Government. However, right now, they don't see Labor as the answer.

"Labor needs to do some real soul-searching as to how we will win these communities back. It's going to take honest reflection and a lot of hard work."

The NSW Nationals had earlier expressed confidence that their candidate for the Upper Hunter, David Layzell, would retain the seat, but stopped short of claiming victory.

Nationals leader John Barilaro addressed his party late last night, saying the early results looked promising but he wouldn't claim victory yet.

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"We're not going to claim 100 per cent tonight. As you know there's still the Muswellbrook pre-poll to come in [and] a couple of others," he said.

"There's no doubt we've got a substantial lead. We'd have to go drastically wrong from here.

NSW Upper Hunter by-election count begins

"So we are confident we've got victory, we are confident we have won this seat, we are confident the Nationals will continue... supporting the people of the Upper Hunter."

Despite the Nationals leader not having claimed victory, former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull tweeted his congratulations.

"And congratulations to the National Party on retaining the seat — a tribute to the great work of the Gladys Berejiklian government through the pandemic," he said on Twitter.

"But the problems caused by the unplanned expansion of coal mining have not gone away."

Last night, Mr Drayton said the election still remained "too close to call", but Labor leader Jodi McKay already appeared to be looking past this election and onto the next.

"We have to make sure we do better," Ms McKay said.

"We have to make this region know it is a Labor region in the future. We have two years to prove to the Upper Hunter that we are a party that deserves their support."

Heavyweights at the polls

Political heavyweights descended on the NSW Upper Hunter yesterday, with the intention to give their parties a much-needed boost at the polls.

Candidates for the Nationals, Labor, One Nation and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers fought a close four-cornered contest, after the resignation of sitting Nationals MP Michael Johnsen, amid a sexting scandal and a rape allegation, which he denies.

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Upper Hunter is a marginal electorate, where the conflicting interests of agriculture, racing and mining intersect.

It was retained by Mr Johnsen in 2019 by just 2.6 per cent.

Coalition candidate Dave Layzell was joined at the polls by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Deputy Premier John Barilaro.

Responsibility rests on him to shift Gladys Berejiklian's numbers back up to half of the Lower House.

But she wasn't the only recognisable face on the hustings.

Pauline Hanson and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack were among the political heavyweights descending on the Upper Hunter, where voters want jobs for young people.

"There are not many jobs for young people here in the Hunter," one voter said.

READ MORE: Farmers dumping tonnes of citrus fruit due to labour shortages

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

The Nationals pulled out all stops to make sure their 90-year hold on the seat doesn't end with Mr Johnsen.

The Coalition attempted to use Ms Berejiklian's popularity among voters to help them to victory in the marginal seat.

The premier told reporters today a win in the by-election would "break the course of history".

"I mean, the average swing against a government in a by-election in the last decade and a half has been 15 per cent against a government and we only hold this seat by 2-point-something per cent," Ms Berejiklian said.

"I'm always someone who looks at the maths and the evidence and the maths and the evidence says an average swing against the government in a by-election."

NSW Opposition Leader Jodi McKay.

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Labor candidate Jeff Drayton was flanked by party leader Jodi McKay as he cast his vote in Muswellbrook.

"There are so many issues in this electorate, but we have listened to what they've all told us and it is that they want their fair share," Ms McKay told the media.

"They want their fair share of the mining royalties that this region generates. And they want to make sure that, as a party, Labor is protecting jobs and creating jobs."

Source: 9News

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