Treasurer Josh Frydenberg won 58.2 per cent of the primary vote in Kooyong at the last election. (ABC News: Nick Haggarty)
The former head of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation has quit the Liberal Party and is running as an independent against Treasurer Josh Frydenberg at this year’s federal election.
A former Liberal Party member and son of former federal Liberal MP William Yates, Oliver Yates said the party’s attitude to climate change is reckless.
His challenge in Kooyong, which covers some of Melbourne’s most affluent eastern suburbs, will be focused on climate change.
So, what are his chances in Kooyong?
In short, he is a very long shot.
Kooyong has existed since Federation and has always been held by the Liberal Party and its antecedents.
Australia’s longest-serving prime minister Sir Robert Menzies held the seat for 32 years.
The ABC’s election analyst Antony Green believes Mr Yates will struggle because he lacks a profile, and the track record of independents at general elections is poor.
“He is up against a small Liberal, he is not up against someone like Tony Abbott,” Green said.
How safe is Kooyong?
Mr Frydenberg’s primary vote has steadily increased over the past three elections, to 58.2 per cent in 2016.
A redistribution has only slighted reduced his margin to 12.8 per cent.
The challenge for Mr Yates will be to get Mr Frydenberg’s primary vote to about 45 per cent and capture preferences.
Labor won 19.8 per cent of the primary vote in 2016, while the Greens won 18.9 per cent.
Oliver Yates is the former head of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the son of a former Liberal MP. (Clean Energy Finance Corporation)
What happened in the state election?
This is the where the numbers are not as positive for the incumbent.
Hawthorn, once a jewel in the Liberal crown, saw a 9.1 per cent swing to Labor and was lost.
Box Hill and Burwood, which are partly in Kooyong, also fell on the back of 7.8 and 6.5 per cent swings.
Only in Kew did the Liberals survive despite a scare with a nearly-5.9 per cent swing.
“They just f***ing hate us,” one shocked Liberal said in the post-mortem.
Why did the state swing hard?
There is a myriad of factors in any election. In November voters endorsed Labor’s big agenda (including a renewable energy target), rejected the Coalition’s law and order campaign and were furious with the leadership chaos and policy paralysis of the federal party.
Common feedback from traditional Liberal voters to party officials was they could no longer vote for them because of the party’s creeping social conservatism and climate scepticism.
Voters wanted action on climate, which is central to Mr Yates’ pitch.
One defeated candidate, Andrew Bond in Albert Park, summarised that his party had lost touch with a traditional constituency.
“This group are comfortable, asset-rich, employed professionals or retirees, and small business owners,” he said.
“However, they are also non-religious but not anti-religion, somewhat concerned about the environment but not Greens, and compassionate about their fellow humans, but not social justice warriors.”
Mr Yates must tap into this cohort to have any chance.
Monash University politics expert Dr Paul Strangio said this was the issue that loomed as problematic for the Coalition across the country.
“I think climate change is a lightning rod issue for disaffected Liberals,” Dr Strangio said.
While Kerryn Phelps won Wentworth as an independent, no independents have won in Melbourne for decades. (Photo by Cole Bennetts/Getty Images)
What about Wentworth?
Mr Yates’s supporters are hoping that he can replicate Kerryn Phelps’ win in the Wentworth by-election, but the challenge is much greater at a general election, without national attention.
“People shouldn’t translate what happened in the Wentworth by-election across the board in a general election,” Dr Strangio said.
The last independent federal MP elected in a Melbourne seat was Phil Cleary in Wills in 1992.
He too won a by-election after former prime minister Bob Hawke quit.
And like Dr Phelps, he already had a profile when seeking office.
Are the Liberals worried?
Not officially. But there is a sense of concern about the state of the party in Victoria heading into the election.
There’s also a worry that should Mr Yates gain momentum against Mr Frydenberg, the party’s most high-profile Victorian MP will have to focus more on his seat rather than the national and state-wide campaign.
Some have labelled Mr Yates “a Labor plant”, something the ALP rejects.
Following a redistribution, the Liberal Party starts behind in two seats it holds, Corangamite and Dunkley.
The predicted swings make another handful of seats vulnerable, including La Trobe, Deakin and Chisholm.
If things go really bad for the Coalition, seats like Flinders, Aston and Casey could come into play.
“A great result would be five seats,” a senior Labor official said.
If Kooyong does fall to Mr Yates, or Labor, the Morrison Government will be in very big trouble.