Aussie parties tussle over key battlegrounds

Main rivals hope to get votes in those electorates by tackling local issues

Hairdresser Martino Pedulla lives in the marginal seat of Banks in south-west Sydney. He says he has little enthusiasm for the candidates in the July 2 Australian federal election.
Hairdresser Martino Pedulla lives in the marginal seat of Banks in south-west Sydney. He says he has little enthusiasm for the candidates in the July 2 Australian federal election. ST PHOTO: JONATHAN PEARLMAN

At his hairdressing salon in suburban Sydney, Mr Martino Pedulla is pondering his vote in the coming Australian election but admits he can find little enthusiasm for either of the leading candidates.

Mr Pedulla, a 42-year-old who moved to Australia from Italy when he was one, lives and works in the south-west Sydney seat of Banks, one of several crucial battleground seats which will decide the outcome of the July 2 election.

Mr Pedulla, who is married and has a five-year-old son, said he voted for current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's Liberal Party at the last election in 2013, but this time he is "not sold one way or the other".

He said he has not been impressed by either Mr Turnbull, a former investment banker, or Labor opposition leader Bill Shorten, a former union leader.

"I still have not made up my mind," he told The Straits Times.

"I just don't feel like Turnbull is in touch with the common man. Shorten does, but he scares me a bit. He does not talk very directly."

With less than two weeks until the election, it is voters such as Mr Pedulla who will play a decisive role in determining the outcome.

Of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives, or Lower House, only about 30 - including Banks - are believed to have a chance of changing hands. So far, Labor has been failing to win over enough voters in such seats, suggesting it will struggle to win the extra 21 it needs to secure a parliamentary majority.

Both sides have focused on campaigning in the marginal seats and targeted much of their spending towards local projects such as sports stadiums and fixing mobile phone black spots.

The latest opinion polls show that Labor is even or slightly ahead of the ruling Coalition across the nation but is failing to claw ahead in enough of the marginal seats.

A poll of 10 government-held marginal seats released on June 17 found Labor was on track to win only one to three seats, though two others were close.

Political commentator Phillip Hudson said the survey reflected private polls conducted by Labor and the ruling Coalition.

"Labor has not been winning enough votes in the marginal electorates to gain the 21 seats it needs to form a majority government despite a strong performance in national polls," he wrote in The Australian newspaper.

The tightly fought electorate of Banks was long part of the working-class Labor heartland across western Sydney, but has become more affluent and gradually drifted towards the conservative Liberal Party. In 2013, Labor lost the seat to the Liberals for the first time since it was created in 1949 but the margin was just 2.8 per cent and it could go either way at this election.

The area has a large mix of nationalities, with about one in five residents speaking either Mandarin or Cantonese at home.

In the electorate's suburb of Mortdale, shopper Tia Vero, 41, who works for a coach company, said she preferred Labor's strong support for the national health system and believed the coalition was more likely to favour the wealthy.

But the outcome in marginal seats often turns on local issues and candidates.

In Banks, which has about 105,000 registered voters, sitting Liberal MP and former company director David Coleman has focused on efforts to clean the local river and install security cameras in shopping strips.

Labor's candidate, Mr Chris Gambian, a former union official, has campaigned on the lack of affordable housing and the need for better access to a local motorway.

A Galaxy poll in Banks on May 14 showed that the parties were tied with 50-50 support.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2016, with the headline Aussie parties tussle over key battlegrounds. Subscribe