By JOHN MOYLE
Labor has not held the Sydney Division of Wentworth since the seat was formed in 1900, having been held solidly by conservatives for over 100 years.
Which raises the question: why is Labor’s Tim Murray contesting the seat for a third time?
“The Labor Party hasn’t won there since Federation, but there are progressive Labor voters in this area, and somebody has to stand up for their values and be there for them to express their values at the polling booth,” Murray told The Sentinel.
“There are also practical considerations in that I am a Waverley councillor and Waverley is inside Wentworth and if you vacate the electorate and let independents take over, that can have a flow on effect in all the other areas,” he said.
From the 2016 election, Labor saw their Senate vote in Wentworth grow from around 15 per cent to almost 20 per cent in 2019.
In a tightly held seat, this is a considerable increase for the party.
“I am hoping that we can maintain that and increase it,” Murray said.
Murray dropped a surprise this week when he announced that Labor would be preferencing independent candidate Allegra Spender.
“I am giving my preferences to Allegra Spender and if Labor poll around 11 per cent, this will get Spender over the line and I hope that she sees that and if there is a hung parliament then she can be persuaded to support Labor as Labor voters have supported her,” he said.
Also this week, Liberal incumbent Dave Sharma announced that he was preferencing Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party, which attracted a paltry 625 votes in Wentworth at the 2019 federal election.
Murray has noticed that since the downfall of the popular local member Malcolm Turnbull in 2018, there have been swings against the Liberals across the division.
“Bronte has about a 19 per cent swing against the Liberal Party at the by-election in 2018 and Bronte is not exactly a Labor booth, and the same thing in Paddington,” Murray said.
“These are socially progressive and wealthy people who are voting.”
One policy area that has brought Labor and Spender closer are the concerns of the electorate in the area of climate change action.
Murray has had a long history of supporting action on climate change and says this is one of the main reasons why he and his family left China and is what brought him into the fold of the Labor Party on his return to Australia.
“Wentworth is a place that really wants action for climate change and you could not have found a worse performer globally that the Morrison Government,” Murray said.
“What is ironic is that five minutes before midnight and before facing another election suddenly all electric vehicles are fine and no longer is Dave Sharma saying, “I don’t want to see it become like the Soviet Union where we all have to buy a Trabant.’”
The Trabant was a small vehicle produced in East Germany with a doubtful reputation.
Meanwhile, Michaelia Cash seems to have dropped her previous stance that electric vehicles will put an end to tradies’ utes and ruin the weekends of SUV drivers.
“The Morrison Government is looking for some new technology out there in the future that will change everything, and it is akin to saying, ‘We are doing nothing but we will make it look like we are doing something,’” Murray said.
As a Waverley councilor, Murray has championed installing community batteries across the area and says this plan follows through to Wentworth, with Labor’s policy to install 400 community batteries nationally, to help cut power costs and reduce emissions.
Since the 2019 election, concerns about the government’s integrity and the cost of living have rapidly come into focus across the country.
In recent poll for The Conversation, 28 per cent of voters in Wentworth cited climate change and the environment as being the major issues, while 14 per cent cited integrity in politics and 12 per cent mentioned cost of living pressures.
“Morrison has said that he would put in a corruption commission and he didn’t because in the years that he has been prime minister we have seen higher levels of corruption at a federal level than at any time in Australia’s history,” Murray said.
“They have turned it into an industrialisation of taking money and putting it into grant programs to sandbag electorates and if we had a federal ICAC, he would no longer be prime minister.”
On the issue of the cost of living, Murray mentions Labor’s affordable housing policy that promises to help young homeowners in lower income brackets.
“If people are earning under $90,000 annually, or $120,000 per couple, Labor will give you 40 per cent of the cost for a new build or 30 per cent for an existing house, as long as you have a two per cent deposit,” Murray said.
Murray is looking forward to the engagement of young people in this upcoming election, with around 80 per cent of new additions to the electoral roll falling into this category.
“I think that young people have woken up to the fact that the government is not representing them or taking their future interest into account, and I think that they will be the deciders in this election,” Murray said.
Preferencing Spender may leave a few ‘true believers’ scratching their heads – but it also indicates that Labor can adapt rapidly to the changing face of Australian politics and bring down the Morrison Government, starting in Wentworth.
John Moyle is the associate editor and special writer for the Sydney Sentinel.
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