The lighthouse at Watsons Bay, one of the suburbs in the seat of Vaucluse. Photo: Allison Hore

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By Allison Hore

The electoral district of Vaucluse is made up of Watsons Bay, Vaucluse, Rose Bay, Dover Heights, Bondi Beach, Bellevue Hill, Point Piper, Double Bay, Darling Point, most of Woollahra and some parts of Bondi.

Socio-economically, the area is very well off, according to the 2016 census. The median weekly household income in the area is $2,456 compared to the NSW average of $1,486. It is only second to the North Shore in terms of percentage of households with a weekly income of over $2,500.

With almost half of Vaucluse locals using cars as their primary form of transport, according to the 2016 census, traffic congestion and over-development are key concerns for people in the area.

Residents raise congestion issues

Residents in Rose Bay have expressed their concern about proposed developments in the area, including a proposal to turn two car parks into a community centre, apartments and a retail complex. Residents believe these developments will only serve to exacerbate congestion issues.

“Rose Bay is full when you consider the traffic and congestion issues, local state primary and secondary schools are full, there is a shortage of preschools, and parks are fully utilised,” Bruce Bland, president of the Rose Bay Residents Association, told the Sydney Morning Herald.

In 2016, the population density of Vaucluse was around 3,421 people per square kilometer compared to Newtown’s 8,166 people per square kilometer. It is the 13th most densely populated district in NSW.

Another worry for people in Vaucluse is water quality. Until Sydney Water’s $86 million plan to divert raw sewage into the Bondi Wastewater Treatment plant takes effect, it is released into the seawater near the Vaucluse coast. Federal member for Wentworth Dr Kerryn Phelps expressed her concern over water quality in the area to incumbent minister Gabrielle Upton.

“It’s very disturbing to me to see that water quality here at Rose Bay beach is consistently rated as poor. We need to see urgent action from government in the way we use and manage stormwater runoff in Sydney,” she said in a video message sent to the Wentworth Courier.

Status: Very safe Liberal seat

The Liberal party has held the seat of Vaucluse since the 1940s when the party was formed. In the last election, Gabrielle Upton won 65% of the primary vote and 73% of the vote on a two-candidate preferred basis. In the past three state elections, the Greens party has polled more successfully than the Labor party, receiving 18% of the primary vote compared to Labor’s 12%.

Despite being a safe seat after former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull stepped down, there was a significant swing against the Liberal party. In last year’s by-election in Wentworth, Dr Kerryn Phelps took out the win. It will be interesting to see if this swing translates from the federal stage to state.

Key candidates

Gabrielle Upton (Liberal)

Gabrielle Upton is the incumbent member for Vaucluse and a front-bench member of the NSW Government, having held the seat of Vaucluse since 2011. Since 2017, she has been Minister for Environment, Minister for Local Government and Minister for Heritage. Before her retirement, she held the role of NSW Attorney General in Mike Baird’s government. She was the first woman to have been appointed this role.

Upton grew up in the Eastern suburbs and before going into politics she worked as a banking and finance lawyer before being admitted as a solicitor to the Supreme Court of NSW and High Court of Australia.

Lenore Kulakauskas (Labor)

Lenore Kulakauskas is new to the race for the NSW Government, replacing last year’s candidate Gloria Nicol. She describes herself as a “local community activist” and is the convener of the Waverly Council committee for the Bondi Beach precinct and a committee member of the residents’ group “Rescue Bondi”.

Kulakauskas is also local to the area. She grew up in Clovelly and moved to Bondi where she has lived for 30 years. She has spearheaded several community campaigns including to save Bondi Pavilion and Bondi Beach Post Office and to stop the opening of a 24/7 bottle shop. She also organised campaigns to stop the amalgamation of Woollahra, Waverley and Randwick Councils.

Megan McEwin (Greens)

This is the second time Megan McEwin has run in the seat of Vaucluse. She is a Councillor in the Woollahra Municipal Council, representing the Cooper Ward. During her time as a Councillor she has campaigned for more cycleways, playgrounds and youth facilities. She has also advocated for solar panels and the transition to clean energy.

McEwin was born in Tamworth and grew up in Gippsland in Victoria, though she has lived in Edgecliff for the past 15 years. She is a former telecommunications executive and previously managed the company responsible for all of Australia’s 1300/1800 phone numbers.

Miriam Guttman-Jones

Miriam Guttman-Jones will also be entering the race for Vaucluse as an independent. She isn’t new to local politics, between 2008 and 2017 she served on Waverly council as the only independent councillor. In this time, she was also deputy mayor for a year.

She decided to put her foot in the race because she thinks the seat has been taken for granted by both major parties.

“Vaucluse and Wentworth have been impossible for the Liberals to lose and for Labor to win,” she explains.

“Because of this, the seat of Vaucluse could be safely ignored by both Labor and Liberals so that they could turn their attention to the more marginal seats.

Ms Guttman-Jones describes herself as a “true local”, having lived in the area since she was 5 years old. Before entering politics She worked as a nurse and has had many years of experience working in community health and in management as director of nursing in a local private clinic.