An independent candidate is in striking distance of winning the coastal Sydney seat of Pittwater in the NSW state election, as Greens supporters flock to the teal contender in the Liberal-held seat.
Climate 200-backed candidate Jacqui Scruby is neck and neck with Liberal candidate Rory Amon on a two-party-preferred vote of 48 to 52, according to The Australian Financial Review Freshwater NSW Poll.
A month out from the NSW election, Ms Scruby’s vote has firmed as a result of support from former Greens voters.
But bucking the trend in seats the teal independents targeted at the 2022 federal election, the Labor vote in the area is holding steady, which could eventually improve the Liberals’ chances of holding the seat.
“The Greens’ vote has collapsed, with the vast majority of those voters going to the teals, but the Labor vote hasn’t yet collapsed like it did at the federal election,” Freshwater Strategy director Mike Turner said.
“As we saw at the federal election, Labor would basically need to run dead for the teals to win this race.”
About 25 per cent of Labor’s preferences are flowing to the Liberals, according to Mr Turner, which could bolster Mr Amon’s chances of retaining the electorate. It is overlaid by the federal seat of Mackellar, which teal independent MP Sophie Scamps claimed from the Liberals last year.
Located about 30 kilometres north of Sydney’s CBD, Pittwater includes some of Sydney’s most exclusive beachside enclaves as well as fast-growing suburbs that back onto large tracts of bushland and natural habitat. It is one of a slew of coastal electorates where offshore gas exploration is a hot button issue, and was a motivating factor in Scott Morrison’s decision to controversially kill off an exploration permit ahead of the 2022 federal campaign, known as PEP-11.
Liberal Infrastructure Minister Rob Stokes has held Pittwater since 2007, on a current margin of 21 per cent. He is retiring as an MP at this election.
In the latest survey, the Liberals secured 41 per cent of the primary vote, while Ms Scruby, an environmental lawyer, secured 30 per cent, followed by Labor candidate Jeffrey Quinn on 16 per cent and the Greens’ Hilary Green on 4 per cent.
The Liberals have lost 16 points on their primary vote since 2019, while the Greens have lost 11; Labor has risen three points.
Meanwhile, the undecided vote has also dropped, which also goes against a broader trend throughout the state in which more than 15 per cent of voters are now firmly undecided or “swing” voters who say they could be persuaded to vote for either major party.
At a time when Labor has a slight lead over the Coalition going into the election – 53 to 47 in the two-party-preferred stakes – the growth in Labor’s vote in Pittwater could be the lucky break the Liberals need.
Pittwater is regarded as a crucial for the Coalition, given the likelihood of a hung parliament in which the major parties are forced to negotiate with the crossbench to form government.
While Liberal insiders are confident of being able to secure support for three or four seats from the crossbench, they are more sceptical of getting support from the teal independents, even though the electorates they are targeting have a long history of voting Liberal.
In the event of a Labor minority government, insiders are tipping that Mr Minns will be able to secure the support of the Greens, who hold three seats in the NSW Legislative Assembly. He also has the potential to secure the support of former Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party MP turned independent Helen Dalton.
“If they lose to the teals, they’re unlikely to get a majority, but if the Libs can limit the loss to four seats they can probably form government,” Mr Turner said.