THE Liberal Party did very well, Labor made small but encouraging gains and the Greens went backwards. That was the common consensus from Saturday's local government elections across NSW.
These days, every election, be it local, state or federal, is scrutinised for broader consequences and, with the next election facing NSW voters being a federal one, Labor was looking for signs of life in a state in which it was almost exterminated at the state poll 18 months ago.
Luke Foley, the former party official and now MP, spoke yesterday of green shoots.
"We see very meaningful signs of recovery" ... Luke Foley. Photo: Dallas Kilponen
''After the very poor result for state Labor last year, we see very meaningful signs of recovery yesterday, Labor winning popularly elected mayoral contests in councils as diverse as Canada Bay, Lake Macquarie and Lismore,'' he said.
The Greens took big hits, especially in their heartlands of Marrickville and Leichhardt, where they have power. As one Labor strategist noted: ''The Greens copped a big hit in areas where they make decisions.''
Labor feels the Greens threat is now contained, if not subsiding. But its bigger foe, the Liberal Party, remains the problem.
The NSW Premier, Barry O'Farrell, spoke yesterday of ''a massive swing'' to the Liberals, especially in parts of western Sydney, that most crucial of battlegrounds. The Liberals were cock-a-hoop that their man in Liverpool, Ned Mannoun, a Muslim of Lebanese descent, looked like becoming mayor.
This was a victory on two fronts for the party. Not only did it help the Liberals' multicultural bona fides but it doesn't get any more Labor than Liverpool, a council on which Mark Latham once served as mayor.
ALP headquarters was encouraged by results elsewhere in the west but was not getting carried away. It reasoned that on the voting patterns in western Sydney, it would have won 10 to 12 of the state seats it lost there at the last election. That offered some hope for the federal election, where Labor is in big trouble in the west.
''Western Sydney is still bad, but we are doing better there than 18 months ago,'' said one senior party source. ''We still have a brand problem in western Sydney but the intensity has decreased.''
The message to the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, he said, is to hold the federal election as late as possible to maximise the chances in western Sydney.
Gillard has promised to go to the polls in September or October next year but she can go as late as November 30.
She will find some encouragement to wait until then.