In the dying days of the 2016 Federal election campaign, Labor is struggling to hold a seat it has never lost, the marginal electorate of Kingsford Smith,
The man whose job it is to save the seat in Sydney’s affluent east, Matt Thistlethwaite, has been relentlessly door-knocking and networking for months to save not just Labor, but his own political career.
Thistlethwaite gave up a seat in the Senate to contest and win a seat in the House of Representatives in 2013. He needed Greens preferences to do it, and will need them again.
Kingsford Smith is one of 62 marginal seats across Australia that will decide who wins the Federal Election on July 2
Thistlethwaite’s opponent, Liberal candidate Michael Feneley, is proving a strong challenger to beat. It’s his third tilt at wresting Kingsford Smith away from Labor, and on both previous occasions he has reduced Labor’s vote.
In 2013, he won more first preference votes than his Labor opponent.
“I’m keen to not allow such a close result in the next one” Thistlethwaite told UniPollWatch.
Kingsford Smith covers an area of 91 square kilometres, from Coogee down to La Perouse and west to Mascot. Recent demographic changes in the area, include an increase in wealthy and presumably Liberal leaning voters.
The average weekly income here rose from 9% in 2006 to 17% recently). This has made the seat much less secure for Labor. Feneley only needs a 2.74% swing to push Thistlethwaite out and achieve a historic victory.
Labor sources told UniPollWatch there was initially concern about the potential for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s "local hero" appeal to damage their campaign.
Mr Turnbull’s seat of Wentworth lies adjacent to Kingsford Smith, and the PM is well-known as a long-term local of Sydney’s eastern peninsula. However, Mr Turnbull’s declining popularity, as measured in the opinion polls since he toppled Tony Abbott for the top job, has given Labor hope.
Mr Thistlethwaite says “Malcolm Turnbull is completely wrong…he’s lost all of his conviction."
Thistlethwaite, 43, grew up in Maroubra. As a local boy, he went to school in Pagewood and attended UNSW where he studied economics before becoming a lawyer.
But his opponent also studied at UNSW and as a 44-year resident of the area, has actually liked there longer, neutralising the sitting member’s local advantage.
Two local institutions have become motifs for the Labor’s campaign; health, as represented by the Prince of Wales hospital, and education, as embodied by the university, one of Australia’s prestigious Group of Eight academies.
“The major focus for me is ensuring that young people get access to a decent education.” Mr Thistlethwaite told UniPollWatch. He is also campaigning hard against university deregulation. He said that if the Turnbull government is successful with university deregulation, the average cost of a degree will be around $100,000.
“That will put the cost of that degree out of reach of many low to middle-income families and children in our community,” he said.
As an active surf lifesaver for 28 years, Mr Thistlethwaite has been deeply involved in the community and with the Labor Party at all levels. In 2008-2010, before representing Kingsford Smith, he was a senator and General-Secretary of the NSW branch of the ALP.
Mr Thistlethwaite believes that despite the above average income of the electorate, many of his constituents will be negatively affected by the 2016 budget, which “when it comes the crunch, attacks vulnerable and low-to-middle-income people in our community”.
The cutting of trees along Anzac Parade and Alison Road to create space for construction of a light rail line has also been a very contentious issue in the electorate.
According to Mr Thistlethwaite “the project has been completely mishandled”.
But despite Thistlethwaite’s environmentally focused campaign, the Greens candidate James Macdonald told UniPollWatch that his party remained undecided whether to direct its preferences to Labor.
While the party’s official “how to vote” card shows Labor placed ahead of the Liberals on the ballot paper, The Greens' advertising tells votes they can order their preferences in any order they wish.
Thistlethwaite’s views on contemporary issues such as climate change and marriage equality are aimed at appeasing the youth in his electorate.
“A plebiscite on gay marriage? I think it is unnecessary. It should be a free vote in the parliament. A plebiscite will cost $150m and that is better spent on schools.”