The ALP candidate for Mackellar, Rhonda Funnell, has spent forty years as a Labor supporter in one of the safest Liberal seats in Australia.
Despite feeling like she is in “tiger territory”, surrounded by people with different stripes, she belongs to a small community of Labor supporters on the northern beaches region who actively organise themselves through social media and fundraising events.
Raised by union parents in Sydney’s western suburbs, she says her working-class background informs her political views and gives her a focus on those less well off in the electorate.
As a teacher, funeral director and small business owner, Funnell says her experiences have given her a strong understanding of Mackellar, as well as the issues facing the electorate at the next election.
“I think at my stage I’ve seen a little window of a lot of the things that most people are looking at. What’s out there, and what’s facing average Australians... a lot of people in this area are doing it fairly tough.
“I think I’ve seen it from the perspective of the parent, as a teacher, a mature-age student,” she says. “Having three kids, and two of them have had to leave the area because they can’t afford to stay here. They can’t afford to get into the property market at all.”
While Mackellar has voted Liberal at every election since it was established, Funnell believes a lack of action on issues has led to voters “switching off” in Mackellar.
“The Liberal Party has done basically nothing for this area. In Warringah and in Mackellar, it’s always been career politicians who wanted to feather their own nest,” she says.
Mackellar includes the suburbs of Dee Why, Palm Beach, Mona Vale and Newport, and continues inland through Frenchs Forest and the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. Unaffected by recent federal redistributions, its 102,000 electors voted 62 per cent Liberal at the previous federal election. Mackellar is considered by the Australian Electoral Commission to be a “safe” seat.
For Funnell, the electorate has lacked “average, everyday people” representing their views at the federal level, and believes that voters are looking for a candidate who “lives a life like them”.
Funnell points to healthcare, education and improving transport infrastructure as the three policies foremost in Mackellar’s future. Of special significance to her is the New Northern Beaches Hospital: originally a Labor initiative taken on by the Baird state government, but let down by inadequate transport services.