Plibersek Election
Greens candidate Matthew Thompson (Image: Facebook)

Inner-city voters are often derided as latte-sipping, out-of-touch elitists by political pundits. Media coverage of this election has been dominated by visuals of Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten playing up their “everyday bloke” credentials to rural Australians in marginal seats, shearing sheep and wolfing down meat pies. But if you look beyond the smashed-avo stereotypes, Sydneysiders aren’t so easily categorised.

The electorate of Sydney consists of recent migrants, young professionals, and kids from the country or the suburbs striking out on their own. Sydney has always been a safe Labor seat, held by Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek on a margin of around 11%.

As a member of Labor’s left, she is viewed as a progressive voice in parliament and a strong local candidate. Both the Greens and the Liberals have the seat in their sights, but they are likely to be playing the long game while Plibersek is the member.

This time around, Plibersek’s two main challengers are tech-savvy Millennials campaigning hard on local issues that directly affect them.

Jacqui Munro volunteers with a local charity, supports LGBTIQ rights and listens to drum ‘n’ bass. At 28, she’s the youngest woman preselected by the Liberal Party this election, a breath of fresh air in a party often derided as being “male, pale and stale”. She’s been campaigning for the Liberals since she was 21, but said it doesn’t define her.

“When I joined, the Liberal Party became a little bit more like me and that first step has been followed by many more strides towards shared influence and collaborative change. I realised that being a Liberal didn’t have to define me, but that I could be part of a successful political movement to help advocate for the ideas, actions and people that I believed in,” she said.

Munro has proven she’s willing to speak out against policies she doesn’t believe in. Not only has she campaigned for marriage equality within her party, but she’s also been a vocal opponent of Sydney’s lockout laws. Munro left her role as a staffer for the Berejiklian government after being seen at a Keep Sydney Open rally wearing one of their T-shirts. Despite her former employer’s stance, she has continued to voice her opposition to the laws and her support for the small businesses affected.

Another of Munro’s priorities is rental affordability. Although Sydney is the nation’s ninth richest electorate, 62% of Sydneysiders are renters. Economists are divided on whether or not removing negative gearing will drive up rent, but Munro said she’s not willing to risk it.

“The key to affordability is more supply and investment … as Churchill said, you can’t tax your way to prosperity, and without a strong economy with prudent taxation, incentives for investment and growth quickly shrink.”

Munro’s social media presence is professional, but distinctly personal. Unusually for a politician, she often replies to Facebook comments directly. She admits it can be a challenge to make sure things stay civil, but “[her] sunny disposition generally prevails.”

Munro’s ease in the digital world is a huge advantage in a campaign that’s already seen several candidates stood down over social media skeletons in their closets. But she’ll have stiff competition in the form of Greens candidate Matthew Thompson, who’s proven himself adept at the art of the Twitter clapback.

“I did declare very early on that my social media accounts were mine,” he said.

“There’s this idea that politics has to be this serious, bland thing. It doesn’t — it can be memes, it can be jokes, it can be hot takes on really important things with some humour injected into it.”

Earlier this year, the Daily Telegraph published a story about Thompson’s “crude” Instagram posts, based on photos of him attending Mardi Gras and wearing glitter. The attempt to shame him backfired. Thompson’s social media following tripled overnight, and he was inundated with messages of support.

“I think it’s been a huge boon for the campaign if anything and a spectacular own-goal for them,” said Thompson.

Thompson’s campaign is focused on climate change, housing and inequality. Like Munro, Thompson wants to tackle housing affordability. Unlike Munro, he wants to end negative gearing, reasoning it should be easier for a first-home buyer to enter the market than for a property tycoon to buy another investment property. He also wants to increase public housing and introduce national rental standards consistent across all states and territories.

On the subject of climate change, Thompson said we need to act now.

“The biggest priority for the next parliament absolutely has to be getting a strong, world-leading climate package through that addresses these sorts of things, that says no to new coal mines like Adani, that transitions to 100% renewable energy, that doesn’t leave people behind.”

Thompson may be facing an uphill battle against a popular incumbent, but his goal is bigger than simply winning the seat.

“It’s really important that young people know that politics is for them, that people who don’t look like your typical corporate politician know that they can do this too. That’s what I really want to see more than anything else come out of this campaign — that people know they can participate in this process and change the world.”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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