by John Moyle
Federal campaign, local issues
The King of Wentworth is dead and the loudest whispers from the court are not about the revolving door of Liberal contenders jostling for preselection, but of Labor’s thronal aspirant Tim Murray.
When Murray won Labor preselection he expected to run against Malcolm Turnbull and did not rate his chances very highly.
But in politics things can change quickly and change is exactly what happened when the Jurassic branch of the Liberal Party politically killed Turnbull, and all convention was thrown to the winds.
“I was preselected three months ago before Turnbull’s downfall, and now people that I would call mild Liberals are looking for a place to put their votes,” Tim Murray, Labor candidate Wentworth Division said.
Wentworth is one of the original 65 divisions in Australia, located in Sydney’s eastern suburbs from sections of Potts Point, east to Watsons Bay, and down the coast to parts of Clovelly.
The division takes in both Labor and Liberal voting areas but has been held exclusively by the Liberals since 1946.
Recent elections have shown an increased support for the Greens who managed 15 per cent of the 2016 vote.
Polling two weeks ago by the Australian Institute of 886 voters found Labor and the Liberals to be neck and neck.
Private polling of 1,000 people released last Sunday by then front-running Liberal aspirant Andrew Bragg – who has withdrawn in order that a woman can run – has the Liberals’ primary vote at 48 per cent while Labor’s own polling has them at 42 per cent and the Australian Institute at 39 per cent.
Mr Bragg’s polling had Labor’s Tim Murray at 25 per cent, a definite increase on Labor’s last candidate who managed 17.7 per cent of the overall vote in 2016.
“Imagine if you are a Liberal party member in the area, how enthusiastic are you going to be, at this election?” Mr Murray said.
After so many years Wentworth is finally within Labor’s sights, but the question many in the electorate are asking is “Who is Tim Murray and why haven’t we heard of him until now?”
It’s fair question as Murray is not a Labor apparatchik out of Sussex Street, but a Mandarin speaking surf loving member of the Bronte/Waverley branch from a solid business background with a deep knowledge of developments gained from doing business in China.
“I returned to Australia after 20 years in China and when I came back it had just been Gillard and then Rudd, who put in more democratic processes in the Labor Party and I decided to join,” Mr Murray said.
“I thought that I would stop having an armchair interest as the party was at its lowest point after the knifing of Prime Ministers and the wickedness of NSW Labor.”
Murray worked on the Waverley Council campaign and was candidate number 2 in the 2017 election.
His pre-selection pitch to the party was simply “that we need to rebuild the party in Wentworth and modernise our campaign capacity, and modernise the campaign techniques by moving to sophisticated data bases and social media that weren’t being used in our area”.
Murray insists the Wentworth branches do not condone the rough and tumble usually associated with NSW Labor branches, but have “a very collaborative approach to doing things that was borne out in working together for the Waverley Council campaign”.
“We are a very grass roots organisation and because we are in such strong Liberal territory, head office doesn’t care about us,” he said.
“It’s a local campaign about local issues with local people staffing.”.
At this early stage of the campaign Murray is relying on a large group of party volunteers with Tilly South as campaign manager and Katherine Cummings running media, both members of the North Randwick branch.
“People need to know who I am, and my approach to the electorate is to network into key opinion makers so that I understand them, and they understand me,” Mr Murray said.
With no injection of funds from Canberra or Sussex Street, the campaign has settled on raising essential funds for pamphlets and advertising through its website wentworthlabor.com.
The website was set up less than two weeks ago with the target of raising $30,000 but as that was quickly reached the target was raised to $55,000 and is currently at $44,000.
Murray’s business J Capital Research looks at the performance of large companies, particularly in the mining and commodities sector, by using sophisticated software systems to collect and refine data.
The small Labor branch has access to some of those software packages and is now employing them in the Battle for Wentworth.
“One of the things we did back in May when I was first endorsed was to put in a suite of software to manage the campaign so that we have an online data base that is linked to social media and email list engines, donations and volunteers,” Mr Murray said.
“We also use a piece of software called Slack in order to keep everybody together and in the same platform, and the other one we are using is called Nation Builder that Macron in France and New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern used.”
It was also J Capital that caused a blip in Murray’s early campaign when The Australian newspaper ran a story about a failed attempt in 2014 by Fortescue Metals to refer the company to ASIC.
“I knew at some point that News Corp were going to run the story because of the sort of work I do researching companies that may be gilding the lily, and my reports are not always flattering,” Mr Murray said.
“Fortescue was one of those and they made their case to ASIC, but they never took any legal action, and that is where large corporations use their legal power to chill free speech and that is something I am strongly against.”
Questioned on the policies that he will be taking to Wentworth, Murray lists a number of key issues both local and federal in nature.
“Climate change was the issue that killed Malcolm Turnbull and a number of other Prime Ministers and we need a policy direction as business is crying out for certainty,” Mr Murray said.
“The people of Wentworth are very progressive, and they know that climate change is real and they need real policies.”
“The Liberal Party will not deliver on that so a vote for the Liberals is a vote for a consistently bad energy policy.”
Another of the major concerns of the electorate is education, and in particular the availability of school places from kindergarten through to high schools.
Murray said that Labor will build a new high school in the area, emphasising everyone “deserves to have a public funded school education, and that is not [currently] something we can offer the voters of Wentworth”.
Murray also said more money needs to go into the TAFE system.
“The Liberals have under-funded TAFE and we are going to face enormous disruption in our society over the next decade, we need to be putting more money into organisations like this so that we can retool our workforce.”
Affordable housing is another state-based issue, but Murray says a federal Labor government removing negative gearing for existing stock “will help young people get into the housing market”.
One local issue that Murray has long been committed to is that surrounding the removal of public bus services across Wentworth.
“I’m part of the Labor group working to bring back buses like the 327, and the Darling Point bus which has been modified, and the 361 which has been cancelled,” Mr Murray said.
One thing certain about this election is there has no other like it before, with the knifing of an enormously popular local Member and Prime Minister, and the disfunction of both state and federal Liberals.
While it will take an enormous groundswell to get Tim Murray across the line, a Labor win in Wentworth has gone from a pipe dream to something in the realm of possibility.
“When I am out campaigning people are angry with the Liberal Party and more generally the state of politics,” Mr Murray said.
“They want to change and the message from Wagga Wagga [state by-election] is clear.
“Wentworth will deliver the same message whoever wins.”