Wentworth And The Simmering Mood For Change
Wentworth voters are still angry about Malcolm Turnbull's dumping, and are ready to punish the Liberals.
That's the message we're getting from opinion polls, which show independent Kerryn Phelps on track to win.
All over the well-to-do Sydney electorate, which goes to the polls this Saturday, from Clovelly to Watsons Bay, Elizabeth Bay to Bondi, there's talk of a simmering mood for change.
It's in the forest of election placards and corflutes on literally every lamp post and telegraph pole in the electorate, candidate faces peering down from on high. It's in the GetUp! mobile billboards driving all over town, featuring images of a crashing tsunami. It's in the army of volunteers brandishing papers at bulging pre-poll places, not complacent, desperate to scrape every vote possible.
This race is well and truly on, and nobody is taking it for granted.
Wentworth has been in Liberal hands for decades, but it was the popular former member who truly solidified the area as a stronghold for the blue party, taking the seat at the last election by a 68-32 margin. But the wealthy waterside area could be on the move.
Wentworth voters polled strongly 'yes' in the marriage equality postal survey and consistently listed climate change as the number one issue on their minds -- both issues the Coalition government was at best reticent, at worst outright hostile, to addressing.
PM Morrison softening his stance on refugees, as well as talking up moving the Australian embassy in Israel, this week is no coincidence -- both policy shifts could be seen as cosying up to the upper-class, somewhat progressive seat, with the highest Jewish population of any electorate.
Progressive campaign group GetUp! claimed one in ten Wentworth voters were members of its organisation and wanted action on climate, and an analysis of Wentworth conversation online by Twitter found climate change was the top trending issue.
After 40,000 calls to locals, a huge truck-mounted billboard circling the electorate, and relentless messaging around climate, GetUp! is talking up its chances of tilting the race toward Labor or an independent.
READ MORE: Embassy 'Move' Not About Wentworth: Sharma
Bubbling anger over the manner of Turnbull's brutal deposal, combined with a mood for change and desire for action on neglected policy areas, might just see Wentworth change hands. That change may come in the form of independent Kerryn Phelps, currently ahead 55-45 on the latest reported poll.
"People are very angry still about the way Malcolm Turnbull was removed as Prime Minister," Phelps told ten daily.
"They're concerned about the far right of the party removing Turnbull... They can't understand why it happened."
Turnbull has left the parliament -- hell, he's even left the country, spending his time in New York since losing the top job -- but his name and presence still looms as large over the Wentworth race as his famous pink home looms over the tiny Lady Martin's Beach at Point Piper.
Voters spoke to ten daily, both on and off camera, about their displeasure and confusion over his ejection, while Turnbull's son Alex has been making waves after publicly backing Labor candidate Tim Murray to take over his dad's old seat.
"I hold a very high opinion of Tim and he’s a very unconventional Labor choice," Alex told ten daily.
On climate change, he claimed moderate Liberals were "held at gunpoint effectively by another section of the party", and told Wentworth "don't give the Liberals your vote."
In a sign of the tightening race, Alex on Wednesday said it may be "better" to vote for Phelps over Murray. Because this race is going to come down to preferences, and it's going to be tight.
Pundits predict Sharma to score the most votes on the first count. Preference flows in later rounds of counting will decide Wentworth, and the thinking is that more Labor votes will flow to Phelps than Phelps votes to Labor -- so for Sharma to lose the seat, Phelps would likely have to come second in the initial count, so she can benefit from Labor preferences. It's thought that Murray wouldn't pick up enough Phelps preferences in the final count to knock off Sharma.
This electoral calculus has led to a complex set of political outcomes so far. Labor hasn't campaigned hard in the seat, with leader Bill Shorten not visiting so far, while the Liberals have poured more than a million dollars into the campaign -- and much of their messaging has targeted Phelps, rather than Labor. It could be said the ALP appears to be giving Phelps a relatively clear run, while the Liberals are plainly worried about her.
PM Scott Morrison said voting for the independent candidate for Wentworth, could be like "a box of chocolates" -- "you never know what you are going to get," he said, borrowing from the famous Forrest Gump line.
"People in Wentworth know who I am," Phelps answered simply.
Her election wouldn't throw the government into "chaos", as some have claimed. Sure, it would reduce the Coalition's numbers from 76 to 75, meaning they no longer claim a clear majority of parliament -- but it would not bring down the government, it would not grind the country to a halt, and remember, we've been in minority government before with Julia Gillard, and it wasn't the end of the world.
Phelps batted away those concerns, claiming she would "act to keep the government to account, not hold the government to ransom".