Pete Mahns, 47, is a lifelong Liberal voter. “But I won’t be voting Liberal [this time],” said Mr Mahns, who lives in Elizabeth Bay, in the federal seat of Wentworth. “It’s been downhill since they turfed Malcolm.”
Anger at the “turfing” of former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who was the popular local member in Wentworth, is a sentiment echoed across the electorate as residents head to the polls tomorrow.
Blue-ribbon Wentworth, in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, has been held by the Liberal Party since Federation, with Mr Turnbull retaining the seat with a 17.7 per cent margin at the 2016 election. However, polls suggest a big swing towards Independent candidate Kerryn Phelps, the former head of the Australian Medical Association, and a major upset for the Liberals and their candidate, Dave Sharma.
If they do lose the seat, the Coalition government will lose its one-seat majority in Canberra, leading to a hung parliament and possibly an early general election.
Mr Mahns said the Liberals had selected the “wrong candidate” in Mr Sharma, a former ambassador to Israel, who has only just moved into the electorate. He regards the party as “reactionary, not policy-driven”, he added.
“I don’t think this current crop of conservative figureheads has what it takes to lead this country, particularly when they can’t even manage their own internal dysfunction.”
Other voters were equally vocal in their desire for change. Bondi Junction resident Teresa Firth, 61, plans to vote for Dr Phelps purely because of her practical approach to tackling climate change.
“I have lived in this spectacular part of our city for my whole life,” she said.
“I have seen first-hand the effects of our changing climate and I am voting for someone who recognises that as a threat.
“I don’t agree with everything Kerryn stands for, but boy, do I believe she is the best of a bad bunch. And I know I am far from the only person that feels that way.”
The campaign has been marred by controversy, including allegations that Liberal staffers tore down the posters of rival candidates.
This week, an email sent to residents in Wentworth – the most densely populated electorate in Australia, with more than 103,000 voters enrolled – claimed Dr Phelps had withdrawn from the race due to being diagnosed with HIV. Rival candidates were quick to condemn the email.
In their campaign material, the Liberals have been claiming the Independent candidate is in cahoots with Labor. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has warned of instability if Mr Sharma doesn’t win.
Some voters believe the email scandal speaks to a wider problem in Australian politics.
“It might not have been Sharma and his team, but the tit-for-tat is frustrating,” said one voter from the suburb of Edgecliff.
“Instead of listening to what voters want and reflecting the views of the community, too many legacy politicians just toe the party line while they sit back on their taxpayer-funded wage.”
Another voter, from Woollahra, said the lack of a party line added to the appeal of an Independent candidate.
“I’m not interested in supporting well-off, middle-aged dickhead men who are out of touch with what is even happening in the electorate,” she said.
“I have been bombarded with pamphlets about Dave Sharma, Rob Callanan [Katter’s Australian Party candidate] and Ben Forsyth [Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party], and they just don’t get the values of the people who live here. They just want to promote themselves.”
The Wentworth by-election is the seventh this year, the most to occur within 12 months in Australian federal history. – @teaghan_wilson