Independents put Liberal MPs Josh Frydenberg, Trent Zimmerman, Dave Sharma, Tim Wilson at risk

Those target seats for the Coalition include Gilmore and Parramatta in NSW, McEwen in Victoria and even Blair in Queensland, where Labor began the campaign hoping to win three or four seats. Strategists on both sides now believe it’s possible no seats will change hands in Queensland.

Sources close to the treasurer insisted he is not taking his seat for granted but conceded Morrison’s personal standing was “toxic” with inner urban voters and that it could come down to 500 votes, with a very real chance the man often touted as the next leader of the Liberals could lose his seat.

Labor’s Catherine Renshaw, Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman and Independent Kylie Tink at the North Sydney debate.

Labor’s Catherine Renshaw, Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman and Independent Kylie Tink at the North Sydney debate.Credit:Richard Dobson

If Frydenberg’s primary vote were to fall below 46 or 47 per cent, Liberals believe, it will be difficult for the Treasurer to retain the seat on preference flows.

Frydenberg said the Kooyong contest would be tight and “every vote will count”.

“I am up against a former long-standing member of the Labor Party in Monique Ryan who is asking people for their vote but is not prepared to tell them how she will vote in a hung parliament – a hung parliament which will bring uncertainty and instability.”

Voters in Kooyong were confronted on Sunday with a bust of the prime minister made of coal perched outside the treasurer’s electorate office as part of a stunt by the left-wing lobby group GetUp.

Those The Sunday Age and The Sun-Herald spoke to had mixed views about how they would vote.

Retiree Jeanette Botham, 72, is a long-suffering Labor voter who has lived in the area for 50 years and plans to allocate her preferences to the independent in the hope that she can unseat Frydenberg.

Labor has never held the seat and the party won fewer primary votes at the last election than the Greens, who had a star candidate in Julian Burnside.

“It’s been frustrating for years being a Labor supporter,” she said. “I don’t know whether [Ryan’s] going to win, but I think it’s good that someone is pushing him, put it that way,” Botham said.

She nominated climate change, cost of living and funding for public schools as the important policy issues for her: “The amount of private schools around here,” she said. “We could do with a bit [more] for public education.″⁣

Standing at Camberwell Junction, underneath competing billboards for both candidates, Botham said she thought locals were tired of Frydenberg.

“I don’t know what he offers, I don’t know what the Liberal Party offers under Morrison, to be perfectly honest,” she said. “This gives people a chance to maybe rethink it [voting Liberal].”

Liberal voter Russell O’Connell, 61, a business owner who lives in Balwyn, believes Frydenberg is being challenged by a group of independents who will back Labor if they have the balance of power.

“Kooyong voters would not be happy about that, he said, and should know Ryan’s intentions before polling day.

“A lot of the people that she appeals to, which are probably females that are similar to her in looks and demographic, think that she’s a great lady,” he said. “But actually you do realise that if you vote for her, you vote for Labor. If you said that to them, they would say, ‘Oh no, no we don’t [vote that way].’ ”

O’Connell said Frydenberg should be returned to parliament because he “understands the community and business”.

“We’re not fooled by the fact that she [Ryan] has got billboards everywhere,” he said.

Fellow businessman Simon Holmes, 45, said that he had always voted Liberal but was disappointed by Australian politics as a whole. “I don’t think we have any strong leaders,” he said. “I do feel there is a strong move to the independents.″⁣

Holmes said the last thing he wanted to see was a hung parliament, preferring one of the major parties to win convincingly.

In North Sydney, Liberal Trent Zimmerman is considered the most at-risk of the MPs facing a challenge from the teal independents. Zimmerman has a margin of 9.3 per cent but is in a three-cornered contest with independent Kylea Tink and Labor’s Catherine Renshaw.

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One senior NSW MP, who asked not to be named so they could discuss internal deliberations, said: “Trent is the one we are most worried about in New South Wales [against teal candidates] but our biggest problem is Reid”.

One member of cabinet said “it’s entirely possible we will win suburban seats, lose Kooyong and North Sydney and end up on 76 seats [the minimum required for majority government]” .

In Wentworth, which Dave Sharma won with a 1.3 per cent margin over Kerryn Phelps in 2019, the incumbent now faces high-profile businesswoman Allegra Spender. Though the margin is much tighter on paper, the Liberals are more confident of retaining the seat compared to North Sydney or Kooyong.

As one MP who has campaigned in the seat said, “the aggro isn’t directed at the Liberal Party, it’s directed against Morrison”.

And in Goldstein, which covers some of bayside Melbourne, Tim Wilson is thought to be the safest of the quarter from the challenge presented by former ABC journalist Zoe Daniel.

A Victorian MP familiar with the campaign on the ground said that “Tim is under serious pressure” and that the seat was home to voters in the “post-material intellectual class who don’t care about the economy, it’s all about climate”.

However, the MP said controversy over anti-Israel comments made by members of Daniel’s campaign team had ensured the Jewish community in the seat, which represents about 7 per cent of the seat’s population, had swung behind Wilson.

Meanwhile, in Labor ranks there was fury on Saturday over campaign headquarters’ decision to release the Robodebt royal commission policy late on Friday night, after newspaper deadlines. Several Labor MPs said it was a missed opportunity for the opposition to set the news agenda on Saturday.

“I can’t believe they left it so late,” one Labor MP said.

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A similar decision not to release the party’s veterans policy to newspapers first a week previously – a decades-old practice – had also infuriated MPs and left them questioning the competence of staff in the campaign media team.

“This says a lot about our internal disorganisation, that it’s a problem,” another Labor MP said, adding that it should have made a much bigger splash on the day before Anzac Day.

“Can you tell me who is running the show in CHQ because I don’t know.”

with Tom Cowie

Cut through the noise of the federal election campaign with news, views and expert analysis from Jacqueline Maley. Sign up to our Australia Votes 2022 newsletter here.

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