“Politicians are like diapers. They both need changing regularly and for the same reason.” – Mark Twain.

Unfortunately for any incumbent government in Australia at the moment, Mark Twain’s assessment of elected decision makers matches voter sentiment across the country.

Most public opinion polls show a strong swing away from the major parties to the advantage of minors like One Nation and Shooters, Fishers and Farmers (SFF). Add to this general voter resentment at being sent back to the polls mid-term and you have a volatile situation in even the safest of seats.

All of which makes the three upcoming by-elections in NSW critical for the Berejiklian Government. Here’s a snapshot of the seats, the key candidates and their chances.

Cootamundra - The Nats vs SFF

Cootamundra is currently held by The Nationals and is being vacated by former Minister for Primary Industries, The Hon. Katrina Hodgkinson. On a margin of 20.4% this should be an easy win for The Nats under normal circumstances, but the SFF are polling well and could cause an upset.

The Nats’ Steph Cooke is a local with all the street cred that makes for a winning candidate. In a general election, Cooke would be a virtual certainty. Cooke is a local small business owner, managing a range of florists across the electorate, recently winning NSW Florist of the Year for 2017.

Cooke has planted her roots firmly in the electorate having lived there most of her life. A long term foot soldier for the Party, The Nationals will hope Cooke’s strong credentials get her across the line in Cootamundra.

However, the SFF has a real shot at an upset in Cootamundra and have picked a candidate most likely to make it happen.

Matthew Stadtmiller was born in Harden, just east of Cootamundra. Stadtmiller went to school in the region and graduated from Charles Sturt University with a communications degree.

At age 28 he was elected to the Harden Shire Council and in 2013 was elected Deputy Mayor, before being unceremoniously dumped as as part of the NSW Government’s Council Amalgamations.

In 2014 Stadtmiller established a local independent newspaper, the Twin Town Times, reaching the main towns across the electorate. He continues to publish the paper as owner/ editor.

This has provided the SFF candidate with a strong platform from which to launch a campaign designed to highlight the alleged neglect of regional NSW by The Nationals.

Advoc8’s Prediction: Nats hold.

Murray - Nats vs SFF

Murray is currently held by the Nationals and is being vacated by retiring former Minister for Education, the Hon. Adrian Piccoli. Like Cootamundra, the seat is held by The Nationals on a healthy margin of 22.7%, however facing a high profile local SFF candidate, all bets are off.

Austin Evans is a solid local pick with strong farming experience. Evans grew up and studied in the region before working as an irrigation engineer in far-north Queensland.

He returned to the Murray electorate in 2000 and in 2004 took up a position as General Manager of Operations with Coleambally Irrigation.

No stranger to regional politics, Evans was elected to the Murrumbidgee Shire Council in 2012, and to the office of Deputy Mayor in 2013. He was elected Mayor in 2014 from where he fought the NSW Government’s Council Amalgamations.

Helen Dalton was runner up in the 2015 NSW election as an independent, polling an impressive 18%. Dalton now takes on Murray with the full backing of the SFF and many believe she is a real chance of taking the seat.

A successful local farmer and businesswoman, Dalton has a rucksack full of qualifications in business, agriculture and education, and has served the Murray electorate in various roles from Landcare, NSW Farmers, Rural Fire Service and Local Land Services Board.

Dalton’s appeal is also strong among the local farming community thanks to her highly passionate and publicised campaigning on water rights, specifically, against the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

A recent straw poll in the Irrigator Newspaper showed 72% support for Dalton above other candidates. Whether this is enough for SFF to take the seat remains to be seen.

Advoc8’s Prediction: SFF win.

Blacktown - ALP

Blacktown is essentially a one horse race, where Labor’s candidate will fill a hole left by former Leader of the Opposition John Robertson. Labor currently hold the seat with a margin of 13.2%.

The obvious political progression for Labor Mayor of Blacktown, Stephen Bali, is a seat in the NSW Parliament and with John Robertson stepping down, his time has come.

Bali is a lifelong resident of Doonside and his thirst for politics has seen him serve on the local council since 2004 and finally elected to Mayor in 2014.

An accountant by trade and a former NSW President of the Australian Workers Union, Bali is the typical local Labor candidate that plays well in the Western Suburbs of Sydney.

Advoc8’s Prediction: Labor holds.