BY ANGELA STEVENS
For the first time in 60 years the seat of Wentworth might go to a non-Liberal, and while this probably says more about what’s gone on in Canberra than the quality of the candidates, independents and single issue party candidates have picked up on the scent of an opportunity.
One of them, City of Sydney Councillor Angela Vithoulkas, believes she will succeed because establishment politicians aren’t doing the right thing by their constituents. “People feel that they [the politicians] aren’t getting anything done with running the country and aren’t worrying about the concerns of the people who voted for them,” Ms Vithoulkas said.
“I think that politicians have forgotten that they are caretakers of the people, the budget, the economy, the legislation, and instead they are focusing internally on their own petty topics and that’s why people are upset.”
When asked about the two-party system Ms Vithoulkas emphasised the campaign will be an opportunity for voters to show the mainstream parties it’s time to do right by the people. She believes the constituents realise they have other options, “People don’t have to blindly vote for who the public has always voted for,” she said.
The founder of the Small Business Party, Ms Vithoulkas is running as an independent as the party’s federal registration is not complete.
Despite the administrative hiccup, she says she will be putting small business interests at the top of her platform during the campaign and beyond.
Another independent throwing his hat into the ring is Victorian lawyer David Barrow, a self-proclaimed “Fly In Fly Out” candidate running a remote campaign on the single issue Make Australians Australian Again (MAAA). Mr Barrow has been vocal about the need to simplify the rules around Australian citizenship, particularly when it comes to eligibility for Parliament, documenting on his website his efforts to renounce his British citizenship so as to be eligible for any of the many seats he has attempted to contest.
He was previously best known for running against Tony Abbott for Warringah in 2016 on a platform for marriage equality, raising money for his candidacy via a Go Fund Me campaign titled Tony Abbott Botherer.
Mr Barrow believes his efforts made a difference in the long run even if they weren’t reflected in the vote count.
“I believe I raised awareness in support of marriage equality,” said Mr Barrow. “I also campaigned with arguments against an unnecessary plebiscite on the issue. Finally, we made it as a country!” Ms Vithoulkas sees herself as an underdog and wears the label like a coat of armour. She says she believes she can bring about real change in Wentworth where other mainstream politicians have failed, because she already has runs on the board.
A recent campaign has been her efforts to address the negative impact of the Light Rail on her constituents and business owners in particular.
Citing disruptions to her own café VIVO in the CBD due to the Light Rail works, she has led a class action lawsuit of similarly affected business owners against the project. As the former owner of 17 businesses, Ms Vithoulkas says the difference between her and every other candidate is that she has real world experience that others do not.
Addressing concerns the campaign in Wentworth will dilute her focus on the class action lawsuit against the light-rail and her council duties she said “At the moment I’m not working at a business, so I have plenty of free time. “The light rail class action is already established and filed so there’s very little more for me to do there, this is an ideal time, it fitted right in.”
Ms Vithoulkas says many Wentworth residents and business owners have also been negatively affected by the Light Rail construction and expects her high profile stand against the project to resonate with voters. Mr Barrow can not hold out much hope of victory in Wentworth if his results in Warringah are anything to go by, but seems to be running as more of a consciousness raising effort than anything else, saying “To be honest, if elected I will demand a recount”.
With a self-deprecating laugh Ms Vithoulkas admits she doesn’t know how she’s polling in Wentworth because she can’t afford to do polling on herself. Recently, she made headlines selling her house to fund her council election campaign.
“I had no choice. Running a local government campaign as an independent is incredibly expensive in the City of Sydney…you have to cover the entire area, 30 odd suburbs, and one mail-out is 80 thousand dollars.”
The latest reports from the media had her running in fifth place out of 12 candidates. Ms Vithoulkis claims not to be discouraged running from behind and says she will be holding a fundraiser and is hopeful for donations.
“It’s costing me money and time, but I believe in what I do,” she said. As for her fellow independent, Mr Barrow predicted “I say my prospects are somewhere between nil and very negligible and I think that is probably about right”.