Independent Joe McGirr says he is taking nothing for granted, despite looking increasingly likely to claim victory in the Wagga byelection.
Dr McGirr is locked in a close race with the Liberals’ Julia Ham and Country Labor’s Dan Hayes.
The Liberals suffered massive swings of as much as 30 per cent at booths around the electorate, but Labor’s primary vote was also down overall by more than four per cent.
At a heated press conference on Sunday morning, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said Wagga voters had sent the government a “strong message”.
She said voters had reacted to both the resignation of disgraced former MP Daryl Maguire and to the Federal leadership spill.
Ms Berejiklian promised her government would “work our guts out” and “double down” to win back the electorate’s trust.
Dr McGirr described himself as humbled and grateful for voters’ support.
“We were really up against it in terms of the big league, but we were able to connect to the community and I am really grateful for that,” he said.
“We are taking nothing for granted. Clearly the count is continuing.
“It seems to me that we won’t have a clear indication until the end of the week, so we can’t take anything for granted, but certainly the initial response is very positive.”
Dr McGirr said the preferences of the Shooters Fishers and Farmers, which captured about 10 per cent of the primary vote, remained likely to determine the outcome.
“I’m quietly optimistic, but the preference count will be critical,” he said.
He also distanced himself from reports he could defect to The Nationals and run again at the March general election if unsuccessful now.
“I have been an independent, I am an independent and I intend to continue as an independent, even if I didn’t get it,” Dr McGirr said.
“I think that’s a question of integrity and sticking to your guns.”
The Liberals’ Julia Ham spoke positively about her experiences to a crowd of well-wishers on Saturday night, but a party spokesman confirmed current figures suggest it would be difficult for them to retain the seat.
“While this is not completely over, it may be over,” Ms Ham said.
“It’s something I would certainly stand for again.”
Despite the drop in Labor’s primary vote, Mr Hayes was remaining optimistic.
“I just wanted to say, what an exciting day it is today,” he said on Sunday.
“Wagga has whispered for many years about being a marginal seat and yesterday that whisper became a roar.
“Wagga has changed today. The people who went to the ballot have made a change.”