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Dave Sharma John Howard
(Image: AAP/Dean Lewins)

Standing outside a bookshop in Double Bay, with a Stop Adani poster displayed prominently in the window, Dave Sharma and John Howard tried to convince Wentworth voters of the Liberal Party’s climate change credentials.

“I think there’s any number of issues that people in Wentworth are discussing with me … climate change certainly comes up, but I think the government’s got a good story to tell here.”

Howard, brought in on Thursday to give the Sharma campaign a dose of star power after a trying week, urged voters to consider the economic consequences of Labor’s climate policy, which he said would lead to higher electricity prices, and a higher cost of living.

“Those sorts of policies produced a train-wreck of energy policy in South Australia when the Labor Party was in charge there.

“Do the people of Wentworth really want a high-taxing, left-wing, union-dominated Shorten Labor government?” Howard said.

The climes, they are a-changin’

Representing a swathe of Sydney’s affluent Eastern Suburbs, from the bourgeois boutiques of Paddington to the beaches of Bondi and Bronte, Wentworth is Liberal Party heartland.

But the Liberal Party’s difficulties in producing a consistent and meaningful climate policy may have hurt their chances of retaining a seat they’ve held since their inception. 

In a recent poll commissioned by Greenpeace Australia, 40% of Wentworth voters named climate change as the most important issue in the byelection, ahead of issues such as immigration, health and the economy.

Deb Brown, who has lived in the area for almost two decades said climate change policy was key to how she voted, and that many residents increasingly felt the same way.

“I think climate change is finally catching on [in Wentworth]”, Brown told Crikey.

“I’d vote for whoever has a policy on climate change. Right now that’s Labor and the Greens”, said another woman, who did not wish to be named.

Jess Ross, who represents the Bondi branch of activist group Stop Adani, said he’d encountered a surge in momentum around climate change while campaigning in Wentworth.

“I think that it will be one of the biggest issues in the election, and I’m hoping that it’s the deciding issue”.

Both Phelps, and Labor candidate Tim Murray recently attacked Sharma over the Liberal Party’s lacklustre climate policy

But speaking to Crikey, Sharma defended his party’s climate policy.

“We’re keeping our Paris commitments, we’re going to meet our Paris commitments, and we’re going to address energy affordability and energy reliability,” he said.

This is not a given. Despite Scott Morrison’s assurances, separate modelling from both ClimateWorks Australia and environmental consultancy NDEVR suggest Australia is on track to miss the Paris target of a 26-28% emissions reduction on 2005 levels by 2030.

Missing Malcolm

Climate change isn’t the only issue leaving Liberal voters disgruntled. 

Voters on the ground expressed a simmering sense of disgruntlement at the way the Liberals knifed Malcolm Turnbull, the last member from Wentworth.

Outside a Woolworths in Double Bay, Howard faced questions from a self-described long-term Liberal voter about the party’s decision to replace Turnbull with Morrison in August.

“Why did they axe Malcolm Turnbull? Scott Morrison’s not explained to the public why Malcolm Turnbull was axed,” the man asked.

“In the end, just as the party changed to Malcolm from Tony Abbott, because they thought it was the right thing to do, the party decided to make a change to Scott Morrison,” Howard said.

The man appeared unconvinced, saying he would not be voting for Sharma.

Howard’s intervention

John Howard’s unexpected appearance in Wentworth came after a a difficult and gafferidden week for the government. According to a recent opinion poll, independent Kerryn Phelps could win the seat, and rob the government of its majority.

Howard’s appearance brought a brief but much-needed jolt of energy to the Sharma campaign. Followed by a media scrum outnumbering constituents, Australia’s second-longest serving prime minister stole the limelight from Sharma, doing the bulk of the talking to voters and the media.

“We love you John,” a couple yelled from a passing car. Passers-by who queued up for selfies with the former prime minister appeared far less enthused when introduced to Sharma.

But even Howard appeared resigned to the possibility of a Liberal defeat on Saturday. 

“It’s not a walkover … there’s no such thing as an unlosable seat anymore,” Howard told a voter.

Peter Fray

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