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Frydenberg chasing every single vote in desperate battle for survival

Dashiel Lawrence
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Published: 13 May 2022

Last updated: 4 March 2024

DASH LAWRENCE: The Liberal Party holds such fears for the treasurer’s prospects that he is even going to speak to Kooyong’s small Progressive congregation

IN LESS THAN ten days, the most powerful Australian Jewish politician in the history of Federation, Josh Frydenberg, could be unemployed.

The Treasurer who led Australia through its most testing economic conditions since the Great Depression, faces the toughest electoral contest of his 12-year career in federal politics.

His challenger, Dr Monique Ryan, a self-confessed political “cleanskin” – more familiar with hospital beds than hustings – has surprised many with an effective and disciplined campaign that appears to have resonated with Kooyong voters.

The former Director of Neurology at Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital has pounded Frydenberg’s Government where it’s most vulnerable in inner city electorates: on issues of climate change, integrity in government, treatment of women and asylum seekers.

One veteran Victorian Liberal Party insider, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Jewish Independent the Party held grave fears for Frydenberg.

“Kooyong is looking bad; we’re very concerned about Josh’s future.

“He is regarded by almost everyone in the Party as next in line to lead it. In fact, there is talk that even if the Coalition is re-elected, Morrison might retire mid-term and pave the way for Josh to become Prime Minister.”

Last weekend, The Saturday Paper reported Liberal Party polling had Frydenberg in deep trouble: a primary vote at 42 per cent – two per cent lower than it needs to be to ensure the Treasurer can withstand likely preferences flows in favour of Ryan.

A YouGov poll, commissioned by News Corp, and released on Tuesday this week is no better. Frydenberg’s primary vote has slipped to an unwinnable 38 per cent.

The consequences would be huge to the Liberal Party to lose one of its most experienced and capable potential leaders.

Frydenberg – an Oxford graduate and former adviser to Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer and Prime Minister – was fated for a parliamentary career well before he landed the plumb seat of Kooyong in 2010. (It’s been a century since a sitting member in Kooyong has been defeated).

In recent years, however, the 50-year-old – a survivor of the 1997 Maccabiah Bridge collapse – has had his attention drawn elsewhere. He’s risen the ranks of cabinet, backed Scott Morrison’s leadership challenge to Malcolm Turnbull in 2018, and faced a High Court challenge against his eligibility to sit in parliament. Oh, and there’s the small matter of economic shocks wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Did he take Kooyong for granted?

Host of Radio National’s Breakfast Patricia Karvelas says that’s not the case. She believes the Bialik College alumnus has “unveiled a fierce campaign to keep the seat,” she told The Jewish Independent.

“I think Josh Frydenberg has fought very hard to keep his seat and as the saying goes, he will never die wondering because he has treated it as a genuine and real threat since the very beginning.

“He has never taken the seat for granted.”

Karvelas notes Frydenberg’s local campaign has focussed on his personal likeability and standing.  Billboards across Kooyong call for voters to “Keep Josh”. The Prime Minister is notably absent from all campaign material.

Dr Ryan goaded her opponent during a recent Sky News Forum, labelling him the “treasurer for New South Wales”.

Karvelas agreed that defeat for Frydenberg could prove a watershed moment for the Party.  “The consequences would be huge to the Liberal Party to lose one of its most experienced and capable potential leaders.

“It would have huge ramifications for the so-called moderate or centrist wing of the Liberals, too, and create an existential issue for the party to reassess who their base is and how they want to position [the party].”

This week members of Kooyong’s Progressive congregation, the Leo Baeck Centre (known to most as LBC), were emailed a short, excited notice: FEDERAL TREASURER TO VISIT LBC.

One of only two functioning synagogues left in the electorate, the congregation had been extending invitations to Frydenberg, along with other candidates, for months. Ryan has already been and gone.

But with less than a week remaining till polling day, Frydenberg’s office had suddenly made time for the Treasurer – who is a member of Modern Orthodox congregation Caulfield Shule – to speak with LBC’s congregants.

Come this Monday evening over instant coffee and biscuits, Australia’s Treasurer will put his case to the congregants of LBC as to why he and his government deserve another go.

Every vote will count.

'Idiotic’: Holocaust museum photo op boils over in Goldstein campaign
The fight for Melbourne’s bayside electorate of Goldstein has boiled over as a key Jewish volunteer for independent candidate Zoe Daniel called a photo opportunity for incumbent Tim Wilson at the Holocaust Museum “all bullshit”.

Rabbi Yaron Gottlieb, who runs the Twitter account Voices of Goldstein – the grassroots political group backing former ABC journalist Zoe Daniel – lashed out in a tweet that pictured Wilson, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Victorian Liberal MP David Southwick at the museum in Elsternwick last week.

Photo: Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg (left) and Independent Candidate for Kooyong, Monique Ryan, during a televised debate at Hawthorn Town Hall on May 5 (AAP Image/Pool, Andrew Henshaw)

About the author

Dashiel Lawrence

Dr Dashiel Lawrence is the Executive Director of TJI. A graduate of the Jewish Studies program at the University of Melbourne, he has been writing about Australia's Jewish diaspora for 15 years. His books include Australia and Israel: A Diasporic, Political and Cultural Relationship (2015) and People of the Boot: The Triumphs and Tragedy of Australian Jews in Sport (2018).

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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