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Wentworth's by-election bellwether

  • 06 September 2018


The federal electorate of Wentworth will be the focus of intense scrutiny over the coming weeks, as voters respond to the loss of their long-standing member, Malcolm Turnbull. A by-election looms, and it looks like anything but a sure thing. 

That shouldn't come as a shock — much of the widely assumed 'blue ribbon Liberal' status of the seat is due to Turnbull's deep personal connections and high visibility around the electorate. He swims, walks, rides trains and catches ferries with his constituents. He even shops at the local pharmacy — though what he purchased last Tuesday evening remains a mystery to all but the young cashier who served him!

Assumptions are dangerous. Even the descriptor 'blue ribbon' sets up expectations. Wentworth is not so easily categorised. It's a mixed bag. Sure, there are the harbourside mansions behind high walls in Vaucluse and Point Piper — but there are also dense pockets of apartment dwellings in many areas of the seat. There are plenty of 'ordinary Australians', to use another phrase that sets up dangerous expectations.

Here's a snapshot of Wentworth from inside my block of 'ordinary' blonde-brick flats. Half the residents are owners and half rent. Two are teachers — one primary and one secondary. There's a retired couple, and two young families. Three students share digs on the ground floor. There's a gentleman in his 80s living with his adult daughter, who is his full-time carer, and there's a young lawyer and his wife. There are two nurses — one male and one female, from different hospitals. Some of these neighbours hail from Malaysia, Cuba, Africa and the Middle East. Among them are Catholics, Muslims, and Jews — practising and non-practising — along with agnostic me.

This is Wentworth as I know it. It is not an electorate that is easily pinned down. It's also not easily duped.

At the far eastern tip of the Wentworth electorate, a measured war is being waged. It's a microcosm, at State level, of the forces that will come to play in the upcoming Federal by-election. A developer, well known for running mammoth function venues in high-profile locations, is threatening to take over a piece of NSW national park that sits high on Sydney Harbour's southern headland, commanding some of the best views in the land — views for which any 'blue ribbon' stereotype would pay through their refined nostrils. 

But this amazing piece of bushland is already