Why Turnbull towers in Wentworth, from foggy bottom to shining shore


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Wentworth Seat Profile

By David Davis

28 July 2013

The electorate of Wentworth is home to Australia’s richest street, the spectacularly situated Wolsley Road in Point Piper. Mansions line glittering Sydney Harbour, and higher series BMWs and Mercedes effortlessly climb the steep hills receding from the shoreline. Meanwhile, in nearby Woolloomooloo, the sometimes foggy bottom of the electorate, sits the southern hemisphere’s largest centre for homeless men, the Matthew Talbot Hostel.

Wentworth has Australia’s highest per capita income and is the nation’s smallest electorate at just 29 square kilometres. Steep cliffside stairs dating from colonial days separate the Aboriginal community in the public housing in Woolloomooloo from the chic cafes and art deco apartments that line the ridge along Potts Point.

Sydney’s famous gay and lesbian Mardi Gras started here, first as a violent demonstration in Kings Cross and later as a celebration on Oxford Street. Wentworth is home to the world’s first surf life saving club at Bondi Beach and the English-speaking world’s first medically supervised injection centre at Kings Cross.

Juxtaposition, contradiction and diversity are the Wentworth way. Any effort to characterise Wentworth in one way will be contradicted by an equally valid observation in the opposite direction. To be comfortable in Wentworth one needs to be comfortable with difference. Most seem to be more than comfortable and actively embrace the diversity that is characteristic of the area.

The electorate starts immediately east of Sydney’s central business district following the shores of Sydney Harbour to the Pacific Ocean at South Head. Included in Wentworth are Bondi Beach, Tamarama Beach, Bronte Beach, Kings Cross, Woolloomooloo, Potts Point, Elizabeth Bay, Rushcutters Bay, Double Bay, Point Piper, Rose Bay, Watsons Bay, Centennial Park, Paddington and Darlinghurst.

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Named after the explorer Charles Wentworth, the electorate has been in existence since Federation. In fact Federation was proclaimed in Wentworth’s Centennial Park on 1 January, 1901. The Federation Pavilion housing the Commonwealth Stone is in Centennial Park and well worth a visit for the growing number of Federation fetishists in Wentworth.

Wentworth has never been held by the Labor Party and has had two Liberal leaders represent it as the local member. John Hewson was the representative when the coalition famously lost the “unloseable election” of 1993.

The electorate is currently represented by Malcolm Turnbull, another former Liberal leader whom many would like to see as leader again or as prime minister.

Living in the electorate, it is not hard to understand his success locally. He was born here, he loves it, he gets it, and local people know it. His moderate, considered approach and ready grasp of nuance and complexity sit well with the needs and expectations of the area. It would be easy to characterise the nation’s wealthiest politician as out of touch, but Wentworth locals are used to shades of grey and tend to judge people individually on their words and deeds. They’ve judged Malcolm Turnbull by his words and deeds and like what they see.

Malcolm Turnbull is everywhere in this electorate and involved in every issue – not just at election time with a pamphlet but every day of the year. He embraces local issues regardless of whether the response should come from the state, federal or local government.

In July last year Thomas Kelly, 18, was fatally bashed about 10pm in a Kings Cross street by a 19-year-old stranger on a rampage. The murder resulted in a crackdown on the service of alcohol after midnight and a swift, blanket response from the state government that has harmed smaller bars and restaurants, but it also led to improved late-night transport and lower levels of violence after midnight.

Malcolm Turnbull was all over the issue from the outset, hosting community meetings, appearing with the mayor and visiting the streets. He was similarly heard loudly protesting against a state initiative that would have put a floating portable heliport on Sydney Harbour, at times probably not far from his house. Last week he was at the opening of the restored lighting installation in Llankelly Place at Kings Cross. Beside him was Clover Moore, Sydney’s famously independent Lord Mayor. Malcolm and Clover are often seen together, sometimes agreeing, sometimes at loggerheads. Both are successful and are regarded as local institutions.

It is extraordinary that in the 2007 election in the landslide that defeated John Howard and ushered in the Rudd-Gillard epoch, Malcolm Turnbull actually increased his vote in Wentworth. At the last election in 2010, Turnbull increased his lead and ended up with 65 per cent two-party preferred. That was an 11 per cent swing in his favour.

Turnbull will win again in 2013. At the last election there were no independents attracting significant support. What is noteworthy is that the Greens primary vote was a substantial 17 per cent and Labor’s was a paltry 21 per cent. Turnbull got most of his two-party preferred tally from his whopping 60 per cent primary vote. He doesn’t need preferences. It is hard to imagine any result at the 2013 election other than an increased vote for Malcolm Turnbull. He won’t take that for granted, though, and it is expected he will continue to maintain high visibility and very active involvement throughout Wentworth.

The Labor candidate for Wentworth is Di Smith.

The Greens candidate is Matthew Robertson, a Paddington Ward councillor on Woollahra Council. He highlights LGBTI issues, asylum seekers, the NBN and climate change as his chief concerns. He is well aligned with his party in terms of priorities. No doubt once again the Greens will show strongly in Wentworth in the upcoming election but not enough to make a difference to the result.

Turnbull will remain the towering figure of Wentworth. The only open question is the perennial one – whether or not one day he will return to lead the Liberal Party. In the short term this would appear highly unlikely.


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  1. joy cooper says

    Had an impression that Di Smith was the Labor candidate for Wentworth & according the ABC’s Antony Green she is .

  2. joy cooper says

    PS Just checked & Sharon Claydon is standing as the Labor candidate for Newcastle.

  3. Abbott is useless and there’s no one else to lead the Liberals that are worth a pinch of Cocky’s poop.

  4. Fascinating to read about a potential leader within his own community.

    Very often LGBTQI people have an opinion on Wentworth because for many of us, it’s a kind of “ground zero” for gay equality in Australia.

    Turnbull’s wavering on the issue of same sex marriage has often caused frustration within the LGBTQI community in and beyond Wentworth.

    Sometimes he expresses more support for civil unions than full marriage equality. Some put this down to how close he feels to the leadership of the Coalition at the time. Right now, he’s all for full marriage equality, which might indicate how far he believes he is from the top spot.

    The phrase “big fish, small pond” seems to ring a little true with Turnbull on his home turf.

    His 2010 election margin was similar to sitting member Andrew Laming’s in Bowman.

  5. David Davis says

    I apologise for the mistake re the Labor candidate. I got the detail from the NSW Labor website. It had the wrong candidate’s name next above the Wentworth description. I should have noticed that on the same page NSW Labor had inconsistent names for the 2013 Wentworth candidate. I’ll double check such detail in future. The ABC and AEC are more reliable than NSW Labor.

  6. It’s misleading to state that Turnbull increased his vote in the 2007 election. The only reason he increased his own, personal, vote is because he had previously branch-stacked himself into the electorate at the expense of the incumbent, popular, Peter King. In the following election (2004 I think) Peter King was forced to stand as an independent after being rolled and split the vote : very nearly winning Wentworth from the Libs. When King didn’t stand in 2007, his votes went back to Turnbull but not through any brilliance on Turnbull’s part – merely because the local silvertails could not bring themselves to vote for anyone else.

    Turnbull is a slippery little character and I for one don’t trust him an inch. He speaks in favour of gay mariiage and yet votes against it. He speaks in favour of copper and yet buys shares in French FTTH telcos. He’s an old fashioned economic rationalist and his popularity concerns me greatly.