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Cutting script prices in half. Enacting climate change targets. Creating a national anti-corruption agency. This isn’t a list of Labor’s election pledges turned legislative wins. They are the changes Monique Ryan claims would not have happened if she and her teal allies weren’t elected.
“That happened because communities like Kooyong brought in independents and demanded change. Those things happened in response to us being there,” she said of the climate and integrity reforms.
Independent MP for Kooyong Monique Ryan.Credit: James Brickwood
Of the controversial 60-day prescriptions change, Ryan submits she was the politician who put the issue on the agenda, saving the Kooyong independent’s voters hundreds of dollars a year.
At what could be the halfway point of her first term, the Josh Frydenberg-slayer admits her first 15 months in office – partly spent fighting a court challenge from her sacked former chief of staff over working conditions – has had some turbulence.
As the former paediatrician speaks from her office on Camberwell Road before heading to a Rotary event, she brims with enthusiasm for a job she says she adores.
Will she run again? Absolutely. Will she win? Yes, Ryan asserts, if she keeps reflecting the values of her voters, which they tell her she is.
Monique Ryan arrives for a court hearing in February when she was being sued by her former adviser. The case eventually settled.Credit: Joe Armao
The Liberals firmly believe Ryan is the teal they can defeat. Coalition strategists think a win in Kooyong could catapult the party out of the doldrums and into a competitive position, especially if it is coupled with potential gains in outer-urban electorates smashed by mortgage stress.
“There’s clearly buyer’s remorse in Kooyong,” says Liberal senator James Paterson, who lives in the seat.
“Monique Ryan has not turned out to be the small-l liberal she promised to be. And voters locally are questioning whether she’s delivered anything for them or had any impact at all. The Liberal Party regards Kooyong as a highly competitive target seat at the next election.”
The elephant in the room is the 52-year-old former treasurer, Josh Frydenberg.
Josh Frydenberg, who now works in the private sector.Credit: Eddie Jim
He is still wrestling with his decision on whether to re-contest. This process has been made trickier by the emergence of a potential underdog preselection opponent, 30-year-old Amelia Hamer, who comes from Liberal royalty. She’s the Oxford-educated grandniece of former Victorian premier Sir Rupert “Dick” Hamer.
Could Frydenberg win? Two polls suggest the seat is up for grabs.
One, conducted by polling firm KJC Research last week and paid for by Frydenberg’s allies, shows him ahead 53.5 to 46.5, with Frydenberg’s net favourability at +20 and Ryan’s at +8. Another poll, commissioned by the left-leaning Australia Institute in late July, shows Ryan ahead 51-49.
RedBridge pollster Kos Samaras, who has worked with the Climate 200 funding vehicle that helps finance the teals, believes Frydenberg’s chances rely less on Ryan’s local output than on national dynamics and a broader shift from the two major parties. Ryan says she has not seen his Kooyong polling.
RedBridge director and former Labor assistant state secretary Kos Samaras.Credit: Wayne Taylor
“The driver behind the teal movement was yes, the anti-Morrison factor, but underpinning it was a growing sentiment the two-party system wasn’t working for people,” he said, emphasising the Coalition’s record-low vote had dipped nationally in polling since the last election and was even lower in Victoria.
Figures provided by Ryan’s office show more than 13,000 voters have enrolled in Kooyong since the last election, including about 7000 aged under 34.
“If you’re losing Aston in a byelection, why would you be picking up Kooyong, which has an unusual number of Gen Zs enrolling to vote?” says Samaras.
Kooyong’s voter base could change yet again if it is affected by the redrawing of electoral boundaries. ABC election analyst Anthony Green said it was likely Kooyong would take in more of the suburbs in Labor-held Chisholm, which sits east of Kooyong further away from the CBD.
“As you move away from Hawthorn and Kew,” Green explained, “it becomes less blue ribbon for the Libs and it will probably weaken their margin slightly.”
In those suburbs’ well-heeled streets, Ryan has probably been encountering more Voice to parliament sceptics than she and the Yes campaign would have expected.
The Kooyong volunteer base – which is larger than Zoe Daniel’s in Goldstein – has switched focus to the Voice, knocking on more doors than campaigners in any other seat.
But going big on the Voice carries an element of risk: both of the local polls show only a slim majority of Kooyong voters on track to vote Yes.
Ryan notes Frydenberg hasn’t said a peep about the Voice (he has said almost nothing about any topic since the last election).
She believes Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s trenchant opposition to the proposed Indigenous Voice would only hurt the Liberals in Kooyong, where she says a number of Liberal voters have joined her Yes army.
Simon Holmes a Court, who lives in the heart of Ryan’s electorate and founded the Climate 200 political crowdfunding group, said the vibe in the electorate had changed.
The grandmothers for refugees group previously held regular protests outside Frydenberg’s office. As Holmes a Court explains, Ryan invited them in for tea the first time she encountered them.
Climate 200 founder Simon Holmes a Court.Credit: James Alcock
Ryan echoes Holmes a Court. Judging her performance, she explains, should be less about counting road upgrades or swimming pools and more about her engagement with voters.
“They don’t want pork barrelling, they don’t want deliverables, they are sick of it. It’s about values.”
Others aren’t so sure.
Kooyong residents approached on the streets of Hawthorn, Kew and Camberwell on Friday were subdued in their endorsements for the local member and her rival.
Kooyong voters were subdued in their endorsements for Ryan and Frydenberg. Back: Andrew Field, Eva Roge and Ally Gallagher. Front: Marnie Walker with Bob.Credit: Joe Armao
Of the 10 voters this masthead spoke to, four supported Frydenberg, five were noncommittal, and one was pro-Ryan.
Eva Roge said “we all seem to be quite deflated”, when asked about Ryan’s performance, while Marnie Walker said: “You hear more about the things she has messed up rather than the things she has succeeded in doing.”
Juliet Flesch remains a Ryan backer: I wouldn’t vote for [Frydenberg] because I wouldn’t vote for a Liberal.”
Juliet Flesch says she won’t vote for Frydenberg.Credit: Joe Armao
Another federal election within the next year is unlikely, and most party strategists are discussing late 2024 or early 2025 as the next battleground.
But in the streets of Hawthorn and Camberwell, the shadow campaign has never stopped.
Cut through the noise of federal politics with news, views and expert analysis from Jacqueline Maley. Subscribers can sign up to our weekly Inside Politics newsletter here.
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