The battle for Kooyong between Josh Frydenberg, Monique Ryan

May 9

For months, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Monique Ryan, his independent opponent in the seat of Kooyong, have been hearing each other’s pitches through the media. From now until election day, they will be doing so within earshot of each other.

The pair spent Monday handing out how-to-vote cards side-by-side in a prime location at the entrance to voting booths in a suburban street in Hawthorn.

Asked how it felt to stand alongside Frydenberg, who was insulted last week when Ryan labelled him the “Treasurer for NSW” and who she accused of misquoting her mother-in-law, Ryan said: “We’ve been very cordial.”

Josh Frydenberg and independent Kooyong candidate Monique Ryan hand out how-to-vote cards to  people attending the Hawthorn pre-polling booth.

Josh Frydenberg and independent Kooyong candidate Monique Ryan hand out how-to-vote cards to people attending the Hawthorn pre-polling booth.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

Boroondara Council told candidates on the weekend that signs and banners would not be permitted at the early voting centre and each candidate would be allowed just two volunteers.

Ryan’s campaign considered legal action to fight these rulings. On Monday morning, as about 100 volunteers lined the sign-filled street, it was clear candidates did not intend to follow any of the rules.

The Coalition wheeled out some senior party figures, including Senator James Patterson, former Hawthorn MP John Pesutto, new Kew candidate Jess Wilson and former premier Ted Baillieu, whose son Rob Baillieu, a member of Ryan’s team, was canvassing for the independent nearby.

Read the full story here.

May 5: The debate

The debate at the Hawthorn town hall between Josh Frydenberg and Monique Ryan was fascinating, and willing. It covered a huge range of issues in a short time, thanks to the questions from the audience, and neither side backed down. Our reporter Rachael Dexter live blogged it in our national blog. These are the live posts as they happened.

Kooyong debate gets personal

It has only taken two questions from undecided voters on climate change and electric vehicles for the debate between Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Monique Ryan to turn personal, with the candidates for Kooyong questioning each other’s integrity.

Ryan claimed the treasurer was not a moderate Liberal.

Here’s an edited excerpt of her response:

“In his own parliamentary party, he sits with Mr Morrison’s faction of the centre right. He doesn’t sit with the notional moderates. We’re defined by our actions, not by our words, Mr Frydenberg. In the 12 years that he has been a member for Kooyong, although Liberals have the ability to do this, [he] has never crossed the floor on a matter of conscience. If you want action on climate change, you can take action on that, you can cross the floor, you can take action on those things. But this is a man who votes with Barnaby Joyce, every time, against what is essentially our national interest.”

In response, Frydenberg said he was “happy to take fair criticism about the Liberal Party’s positions on certain policies”, saying, “I am who I am.”

He then turned to Ryan’s background.

The pair at Thursday’s debate in Hawthorn

The pair at Thursday’s debate in HawthornCredit:Sky News

“With Monique Ryan, she sought to conceal the fact she was [once] a member of the Labor Party,” he said. “Even when she left the Labor Party, she was advocating for Labor Party positions on social media for years after. And what I’m worried about, and hopefully what my local community’s worried about, is if they do go for a so-called independent, the likelihood of a hung parliament becomes all that more real. And for the big issues that Australia faces, whether they are economic or national security issues, and there are some big national security issues, the difficulty in taking those decisive decisions will just go up more than a notch as a result of having a hung parliament.”

Ryan replied that she had never concealed her previous membership of the Labor Party.

‘Not my job’: Ryan deflects question

One of the key criticisms Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has consistently levelled at challenger Monique Ryan is that her policies have not been fleshed out or costed.

During this afternoon’s candidate debate in Kooyong, broadcast on Sky News, the independent was pushed on her plans for tax reform, to which she replied it was “not her job” to provide large-scale, costed plans on such matters.

“One of the three major concerns that young people tell me that they have is the fact that they cannot see how they’re going to be able to afford a home in their lifetime. Yes, we need tax reform. And pensioners and older people are really struggling as well. They’re in a really difficult position right now,” she said.

“It’s very disappointing that neither of the major parties has brought any vision for tax reform for this country to this election.

“But it’s not my job as an independent to come up with a fully-fledged idea for tax reform for this country. What we don’t want is Band-Aid payments given to us with a budget within an election.”

Is a hung parliament good or bad?

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and independent rival Monique Ryan have been asked to discuss the pros and cons of a hung parliament during the Kooyong debate under way in eastern Melbourne.

A hung parliament is a likely outcome of the election if a number of independents are successful on May 21.

Ryan claimed a hung parliament would be better for the country, while Frydenberg said it would prevent quick and decisive action by the government.

“The only bill that’s been taken to parliament for a [federal] Independent Commission Against Corruption was Helen Haines’, an independent. And the person who led the movement to stop the Religious Discrimination Bill was Rebekha Sharkie, an independent,” she said.

‘Keep Josh’: billboards around the electorate of Kooyong.

‘Keep Josh’: billboards around the electorate of Kooyong.Credit:Penny Stephens

“So if independents like me are in a position where there is a hung parliament after the election, and we do have even more of a position to influence the government, I think that will be a positive thing.”

Frydenberg disagreed, saying Australia’s experience during the pandemic was a perfect example of the benefit of a government that could pass legislation in its own right.

“With JobKeeper, we were able to move really swiftly because we knew we had the confidence of the lower house, and we couldn’t make a decision such as that if we had to negotiate with the crossbench to reach a decision on the type of program and the levels of the support and how it would be delivered,” he said.

“Similarly, if the prime minister of the day could not reach an agreement like AUKUS with the United Kingdom and the United States because he didn’t have the authority of a majority in the lower house, then that would be counterproductive to Australia’s national interest.

“And so on the big issues of economic security and national security, we need the stability of government.”

Who should Kooyong voters believe on climate?

Climate change has unsurprisingly been the most referenced issue during the debate in Kooyong between Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Monique Ryan this afternoon.

One voter, a resident from Kew named Noel, held up campaign material spruiking both candidates’ credentials on climate change advocacy.

Noel asked the candidates point-blank: “Who should I believe?”

Frydenberg stressed that the Coalition was “absolutely committed to practical, strong action on climate change”, brushing aside comments from Nationals MP Matt Canavan that net zero emissions by 2050 was dead.

“We will get there. We have the costed plan to get there in the budget. We’ve invested in everything from microgrids to new clean hydrogen facilities. We have Snowy 2.0 that’s been built as a big battery for the east coast of Australia,” he said.

Ryan stood by her claim that the government was not being aggressive enough in tackling emissions.

“The sad fact of the matter is that since 2015, our carbon emissions have – if you remove the fudging that’s associated with the numbers associated with land usage, land clearing and forestry – increased by 4 per cent,” she said.

“This government does not have a real commitment to net zero by 2050 or for anything beyond that time we have.”

Dr Monique Ryan at her Hawthorn HQ.

Dr Monique Ryan at her Hawthorn HQ.Credit:Penny Stephens

Treasurer swipes Ryan’s anti-corruption commission

Aside from more aggressive tactics to combat climate change, a push for a national anti-corruption commission has been another centrepiece of the campaign by Climate 200 independents to lure voters away from incumbents.

Setting up a commission was a key promise of the Morrison government during the 2019 election campaign, but there is still no such federal body overseeing political integrity.

In today’s Kooyong debate between Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and independent challenger Monique Ryan, Frydenberg took the opportunity to take a swipe at the model of a national anti-corruption body that was proposed by independent Helen Haines.

“It’s really important that for politicians particularly, but [also for] others in the public arena, that we’re not presumed to be guilty until proven innocent, and that is ultimately what would happen with public hearings and public referrals,” he said.

Frydenberg said that politicians brought before a public hearing and then cleared would be thrust into the public spotlight unnecessarily.

“[Being publicly exonerated] will be cold comfort for a politician who’s been hounded by their electorate and, maybe in some cases, forced to resign,” he said.

“So, in practice, I’m all in for a Commonwealth integrity commission, but it has to be the right model. And one that ensures it’s the courts because we all sign up to the judicial process. It’s the courts, who are the final arbiter of guilt,” he said.

In response, Ryan claimed the government was equivocating on a national anti-corruption body along the lines of NSW’s Independent Commission Against Corruption because it had something to hide.

“Saying there’s some commitment to that is patently false. Prime Minister Morrison told us earlier this week he doesn’t believe we need an ICAC,” she said.

“I think the reason this government thinks that we don’t need an ICAC is it knows what we will find. If we look at JobKeeper, [it cost] $88 billion. We were the only country in the developed world that had a stimulus scheme like it that didn’t have transparency about where the money went.”

The debate gets fiery

After weeks of personal jabs between Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Climate 200-backed independent Dr Monique Ryan, today’s candidate debate was always going to be heated.

At one point in the one-hour debate, which finished a short time ago, Frydenberg became angry after Ryan claimed he didn’t know the stress Melbourne’s hospitals had been under during the pandemic.

Here’s the exchange:

Ryan: ”Mr Frydenberg, you’re the treasurer for NSW. You weren’t here. Anyone who’s had experience of a Victorian public hospital in the last few years knows what it’s like because we have people dying in hospitals, on ramps and people waiting years for elective surgery. Public hospitals need more help than they’ve received from this government.”

Josh Frydenberg posters in Kooyong ′ I hate Victoria’

Josh Frydenberg posters in Kooyong ′ I hate Victoria’

Frydenberg: ”I’m not going to be insulted like that. My father’s a surgeon. In fact, he was the surgeon here at Vimy House Hospital in Kew for more than 20 years. My sister’s a pediatrician at the Royal Children’s Hospital for more than 20 years. My uncle is a urologist who’s been the chair of the Australian Urology Society. I’m not going to be insulted by that, saying I’m the treasurer for NSW. I’m the member for Kooyong. I’m the treasurer of Australia. And I have delivered economic support for Victoria which is greater than any other state on a per capita basis.”

‘A toxic miasma of division’ v ‘chaos and confusion’

The two people battling for the Liberal-held seat of Kooyong made two very different – and pointed – final pitches to the undecided voters at the public debate this afternoon.

Monique Ryan homed in on claims the Liberal Party had failed in terms of credible action on climate change and an integrity commission, before Treasurer Josh Frydenberg served back, promising stability instead of a hung parliament.

Ryan: “The legacy of Mr Frydenberg’s government is going to be a toxic miasma of division, disappointment and debt. We need to do better, we need to be faster, fairer and more just. This government has done nothing good for us in the last nine years.

“This is a government in which people are … limited by their own party structures and by their own ambitions. For Mr Frydenberg, politics is about power. For me, it’s about people.”

Frydenberg talked up his track record helping locals in his community, including a mother who credited him with helping secure her son’s NDIS funding, and a drycleaner in Kew whose business was tided over during lockdowns by JobKeeper.

Frydenberg: “For me, politics is about my local community, a community that I grew up in, and a community that I’m raising a family in. But Australia has very big issues. Climate change is one of them. Coming out of COVID and securing our recovery is another, and dealing with a much more unstable regional environment is another important priority.

“We do not, in Australia, need the uncertainty, the chaos and the confusion of a hung parliament. We need the stability and strength and certainty of government. I have a lot of work still to do. I need your support to do it at the ballot box.”

And that was the end of the debate. What do you think? Please add your responses in the comments.

May 4

A debate on Thursday between Josh Frydenberg and his independent opponent for the seat of Kooyong, Monique Ryan, will go ahead as a heated disagreement has injected personal animus into an already charged campaign. For many Liberals, this was personal before the treasurer brought Ryan’s mother-in-law into the fray.

Branch members in Hawthorn and Toorak are hard-wired to believe they reside in the party’s spiritual centres. But the drift of centre-right parties to the outer-suburbs and regions has upended this orthodoxy. The “teal” movement represented by Ryan strikes at the heart of inner-city Liberals’ identities and raises questions about the party’s future in these affluent suburbs.

So when the candidates square off in their only debate in Hawthorn, Frydenberg will aim to take skin off Ryan on the one hand, and make the case for the ongoing relevance of the Liberal Party in urban areas on the other.

Ryan and her family have been rattled by the focus on their 87-year-old relative since Frydenberg told supporters at his campaign launch that the elderly women approached him in the street and told him she was voting for him. When he asked why, Frydenberg claimed the woman said: “Because you know what you’re doing and you’re a nice person.”

Josh Frydenberg at his campaign launch.

Josh Frydenberg at his campaign launch.Credit:Chris Hopkins

Frydenberg rejected Ryan’s claim that her mother-in-law was misquoted. It is unclear what Ryan believes Frydenberg got wrong in his re-telling. The treasurer defended himself when grilled by ABC radio presenter Virginia Trioli on Wednesday morning about his decision to air the woman’s views without her permission.

“It seems to me the only point of telling the joke … was to imply that not even her own mother-in-law would vote for her. What kind of candidate tries to publicly wedge a woman against her own mother-in-law?” Trioli asked.

Frydenberg did not answer directly, instead claiming Ryan’s campaign was also engaging in dirty tactics when former Liberal premier Ted Baillieu’s son, Rob Baillieu, wrote an opinion piece insinuating Frydenberg was not a “decent” person.

In a combative interview, Trioli continued to press the prime ministerial aspirant on the ethics of drawing his opponent’s mother-in-law into the public realm. He denied he had humiliated Ryan’s family. “Monique Ryan could not explain how she was misquoted because she wasn’t. It was word for word,” he said.


“This lady wanted me to know that she was Monique Ryan’s mother-in-law … I think it’s a very nice story that she told me that not only is she supporting me because she deems me a nice person, but because she said I knew what I was doing.”

Ryan said on social media on Tuesday that her mother-in-law had received distressing phone calls from strangers in recent days.

Responding to this claim, Frydenberg told Trioli: “I don’t have any regrets and if that is what is occurring – and I obviously have not been told first hand by her mother-in-law that that is what is occurring – then that is unfortunate. But I don’t know who would be ringing her and why they would be ringing her.”

Frydenberg will be match-fit for the debate after facing off with shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers in Canberra on Wednesday. Ryan spent Wednesday preparing her lines with her team. Thursday’s debate on the national stage against one of the most prominent political figures in the country will double as the first major debate of Ryan’s career – an intimidating task against an accomplished minister schooled in politics.

Leaders’ debates can often be vanilla, but it’s difficult to imagine Thursday’s debate will be thus. The only shame is that it will be broadcast on pay TV in the prime-time slot of … 2pm.

May 2

The fight for Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s storied seat of Kooyong turned ugly after his campaign launch on Sunday, when challenger Monique Ryan accused the treasurer of misquoting her 87-year-old mother-in-law in an attempt to embarrass the “teal” independent.

Frydenberg rejected Ryan’s claim, saying he had quoted the elderly woman “word for word”.

Josh Frydenberg is surrounded by supporters at his campaign launch on Sunday.

Josh Frydenberg is surrounded by supporters at his campaign launch on Sunday.Credit:Chris Hopkins

At the high-energy launch, where Frydenberg acknowledged his seat was in danger and implored his supporters to harness the “power of the dark blue” to win, he told a story of running into a woman near a cafe who said she was voting for him. The woman was Ryan’s mother-in-law. When he asked why, Frydenberg claimed the woman said: “Because you know what you’re doing and you’re a nice person.”

The treasurer’s recounting of the conversation, which he also delivered at a private function days earlier, drew laughter from the crowd but angered Ryan.

“My mother-in-law was misquoted by Mr Frydenberg,” Ryan told The Age and the Herald. “She was not asked if her private conversation with him could be used in a public forum.” Ryan did not detail in what way her mother-in-law was misquoted.

“She is a frail 87-year-old lady who should not have been brought into the public spotlight in this way. It is beyond the pale that Mr Frydenberg would use my frail 87-year-old mother-in-law as the butt of his jokes for cheap laughs. It’s behaviour like that that has turned so many people in Kooyong away from Mr Frydenberg and the Liberal Party.”

Kooyong independent Monique Ryan at her campaign launch earlier this month.

Kooyong independent Monique Ryan at her campaign launch earlier this month.Credit:Aaron Francis

Ryan acknowledged her mother-in-law was a Liberal Party supporter but maintained Frydenberg’s account was inaccurate. The Age and the Herald did not attempt to contact the elderly woman because Ryan requested her family members be “left alone” and the “media accord us the privacy that Mr Frydenberg has failed to respect”.

Frydenberg rejected Ryan’s claims, telling The Age and the Herald on Sunday evening: “I was approached by a lady on Auburn Road. She said ‘Josh, I’ll be voting for you’. I said ‘that’s nice’ and she said ‘I’m Monique Ryan’s mother-in law’. I said ‘why are you voting for me?’ and she said ‘because you know what you’re doing and you’re a nice person’.

“Those were her exact words. They are word for word. I said ‘thank you very much’.” Asked earlier on Sunday whether it was offensive to draw Ryan’s relatives into the campaign, Frydenberg said “absolutely no”.

It was “their camp that brought Ted Baillieu’s son into the debate”, Frydenberg said – a reference to former premier Ted Baillieu’s son, who is a volunteer for Ryan and suggested in an opinion piece that Frydenberg was not a “decent person”.

Rob Baillieu, volunteers manager for Ryan, attacked Frydenberg in an opinion piece.

Rob Baillieu, volunteers manager for Ryan, attacked Frydenberg in an opinion piece.Credit:Simon Schluter

The acrimony comes in the week after Frydenberg’s campaign hired 10 private security guards to hunt down what he claims are Ryan-linked vandals drawing swastikas and Hitler moustaches on his posters, and after Ryan’s campaign reported to the federal police more than a hundred vandalised pieces of campaign material.

At his launch, Frydenberg warned that Ryan and her Climate 200 backers were “in bed” with Labor leader Anthony Albanese and invoked Robert Menzies’ “forgotten people”, John Howard’s “battlers” and Scott Morrison’s “quiet Australians” in urging against an inner-city uprising against the Liberal Party that could deliver a “chaotic” hung parliament.

His campaign team, which will spend more than $2 million in Kooyong, launched new “Keep Josh” billboards on the weekend in a bid to differentiate the treasurer from Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who Frydenberg’s camp privately admit is suppressing support for the Liberals.

“If they vote for a so-called independent, they will get Anthony Albanese and the Labor Party,” the treasurer said. “This is the choice. And we know the Liberal Party represents the values and ideals of the quiet Australians.”

The treasurer’s electorate of Kooyong has been the seat of Liberal royalty. Former prime minister Robert Menzies held the electorate – in Melbourne’s inner east – for 32 years. Former opposition leader Andrew Peacock was also a member for Kooyong. Former prime minister John Howard said on Sunday Frydenberg would “win comfortably”.

Frydenberg, who spoke without notes, called Climate 200, which has provided about a third of Ryan’s campaign funding, a “political party” and argued Ryan, who was a Labor Party member between 2007 and 2010, would deliver a Labor government in the event of a hung parliament. He added that this was against the interests of Kooyong voters, who have never elected a Labor MP.

“This is the fight of my political life. It will be a very close contest,” he said.

Ryan said she took nothing for granted but was buoyed by “one of the biggest campaigns in Australian political history”.

The former paediatric neurologist said one in every 30 homes in Kooyong had her poster hanging in front of it and 37,500 had been door-knocked by her volunteers. About $1.4 million had been raised from 3000 donors, she said, and her campaign will be topped up with funding from the Climate 200 fundraising vehicle run by Simon Holmes a Court.

“It continues to build momentum,” she said.

Howard said: “I’m confident Josh will win quite comfortably because he’s very sensible and treating it as a serious challenge. People who treat a challenge seriously normally survive.” Howard lost his own seat of Bennelong in the 2007 election that brought Kevin Rudd to power.

Howard said he wanted to speak at Frydenberg’s launch but had a family christening, but said his “close friend” had a special energy and excelled as treasurer.

“The intensity of the Treasury portfolio is amazing and he has handled it extremely well. I’ve been very impressed with the way he has superintended the economic argument of the Coalition,” he said.

Former prime minister John Howard campaigning for the Liberal Party in his former seat of Bennelong.

Former prime minister John Howard campaigning for the Liberal Party in his former seat of Bennelong.Credit:Renee Nowytarger

“He’s an ideal fit for Kooyong.”

Before Frydenberg spoke at the launch, a number of locals gave speeches in support of the treasurer. The speakers included a bipolar man who said the MP was “fair dinkum”, a mum who said Frydenberg was “genuinely interested” in the wellbeing of her disabled son, an elderly woman who said she appreciates the attention the treasurer gives her, and a dry cleaner who said Frydenberg was a pleasure to deal with when picking up his shirts.

May 2

By Chip Le Grand

The best thing for the voters of Kooyong right now would be for everyone to take a day off. Go for a walk. Read a book. Spend some time in the garden.

Kooyong, a place where the bluest of blood has long fertilised the richest of soils, has some of the loveliest gardens in Melbourne. If you can spare 30 minutes, just ask local resident Jeff Kennett about his roses. And then take some time to smell them.

Josh Frydenberg at his campaign launch.

Josh Frydenberg at his campaign launch.Credit:Chris Hopkins

For the first time since federation, Kooyong is up for grabs in an election, with Monique Ryan, a well-liked and well-funded independent candidate, up against Josh Frydenberg, a popular local member.

A genuine contest between two smart people to represent a smart, engaged electorate should make for good politics. Instead, the Kooyong campaign has turned rancid, as Ryan and her principal backer, Simon Holmes a Court, can almost touch an unlikely prize and Frydenberg, a potential future prime minister, can see his political career fading to black.


The latest stoush between these two candidates, over the silliest of things, has now escalated beyond what is reasonable in politics.

About a month ago, Frydenberg popped out to the local shops and was approached by an elderly woman in the street. She explained that she was Monique Ryan’s mother-in-law and that she would be voting Liberal. When Frydenberg asked her why, she replied: “Because you know what you are doing and you are a nice person.”

This story, as told by Frydenberg at his campaign launch on Sunday, should not surprise anyone.

In Kooyong, people considering a vote for Ryan are being asked to reprogram a lifetime of hardwired electoral behaviour. The liveliest political debates in Kooyong are being had between dear friends and families who normally agree on most things.

As for politics and acquired family, this isn’t the first time a candidate hasn’t been endorsed by their mother-in-law.

Most people are now aware that Rob Baillieu, the son of former Victorian premier Ted Baillieu, is campaigning for Ryan against the party of his father. A couple of weeks ago he wrote a terrific story for The Age explaining his reasons.

Unlikely prize: Monique Ryan is on the cusp of winning Kooyong from the Liberal Party.

Unlikely prize: Monique Ryan is on the cusp of winning Kooyong from the Liberal Party.Credit:Aaron Francis

If you think back a little further, you might recall the cameo Ted Baillieu’s mother-in-law Joan Jubb played in the 2006 state election. Back then, Jubb put a sign of Baillieu’s political opponent, Steve Bracks, on her front lawn. When asked about it, Baillieu remarked that Jubb, like everyone else, was free to vote for whom she pleased.

Frydenberg has told the story about Ryan’s mother-in-law a couple of times in the campaign: once to patrons of Glenferrie Hotel, and again to a room full of campaign volunteers and supporters at his campaign launch. Perhaps the story was better left untold but there doesn’t seem to be anything malicious about it. There is no rift between Ryan and her mother-in-law; she just isn’t getting her vote.

Monique Ryan doesn’t see it that way. In a remarkable interview with ABC News Breakfast on Monday, she said her mother-in-law had been misquoted. She then said the following: “I don’t really see why the treasurer feels that it is appropriate to bring other family members into political discourse. My mother-in-law is not a part of this campaign. She is not someone who should be made fun of at Liberal Party events, which Mr Frydenberg has done twice in the last week. Where does this end?

“At the start of this campaign I signed a code of conduct where I pledged not to make personal attacks on Mr Frydenberg and not to approach or attack his family in any way. I’d like to know where he draws the line. I don’t want him coming after my parents and I don’t want him coming after my children.”

How does a friendly exchange between an 87-year-old woman and her local member of parliament morph into a suggestion that the treasurer of Australia would go after the children of a political opponent? It is a plainly ridiculous thing to say and a dangerous idea to feed back into the febrile atmosphere of the Kooyong campaign.

The answer has less to do with Ryan than the real battle for Kooyong: the bare-knuckle proxy fight being waged between Frydenberg and Holmes a Court.

Both men have made it clear how they feel about each other, with Holmes a Court telling the treasurer to “f— off” in a recent interview with the Australian Financial Review and Frydenberg describing Holmes a Court as a “strange cat” and the puppet master of Ryan’s campaign.

There is no question things are strained and strange between these two men. Earlier in the campaign, Holmes a Court tweeted a picture of a decapitated stuffed toy with the caption: “Who had the worse day … my niece’s teddy or Josh Frydenberg?”

It was a little funny and also a little disturbing. Let’s hope that over the next three weeks, Monique Ryan and Josh Frydenberg resist the urge to knock the stuffing out of one another.

May 1

Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has implored a thousand of his supporters to harness the “power of the dark blue” to overcome a contest from his teal-coloured independent challenger.

In a 15-minute speech, the treasurer said a vote for former paediatric neurologist Monique Ryan would be a vote for a “chaotic” hung parliament that would make it more difficult for future governments to pursue big policies like JobKeeper or the AUKUS security pact.

Josh Frydenberg shares a moment onstage with his family as he began his campaign for re-election in the seat of Kooyong before 1000 local constituents.

Josh Frydenberg shares a moment onstage with his family as he began his campaign for re-election in the seat of Kooyong before 1000 local constituents.Credit:Chris Hopkins

Frydenberg claimed Labor leader Anthony Albanese was “in bed” with independents challenging inner-city Liberals, as he invoked Robert Menzies’ “forgotten people”, John Howard’s “battlers” and Scott Morrison’s “quiet Australians”.

“If they vote for a so-called independent, they will get Anthony Albanese and the Labor Party,” the treasurer said. “This is the choice. And we know the Liberal Party represents the values and ideals of the quiet Australians.”

The treasurer’s electorate of Kooyong has been the seat of Liberal royalty. Former prime minister Robert Menzies held the electorate – in Melbourne’s inner east – for 32 years. Former opposition leader Andrew Peacock was also a member for Kooyong.

Yet at this election, the seat is under serious threat for the first time from “teal” independent Monique Ryan.

Frydenberg, who spoke with no notes, repeated his regular attacks on the climate-focused fundraising body Climate 200 – which has provided about half of Ryan’s funding.

The treasurer called the group a “political party” and argued Ryan, who was a Labor Party member between 2007 and 2010, would deliver a Labor government in the event of a hung Parliament. He added that this was against the interests of Kooyong voters, who have never elected a Labor MP.

Josh Frydenberg swamped at his campaign launch.

Josh Frydenberg swamped at his campaign launch.Credit:Chris Hopkins

The treasurer also told supporters that he ran into a woman at a local cafe who said she was voting for him and that she was Ryan’s mother-in-law. When he asked why she was voting for him, Frydenberg claimed the woman said: “Because you know what you’re doing and you’re a nice person.”

Frydenberg also thanked former Victorian premier Ted Baillieu, who was in the crowd, for his support during the campaign. Baillieu’s son, aged in his 20s, holds a senior campaign role in Ryan’s team.


“It’s alright Ted. I know families don’t always see eye to eye,” Frydenberg joked.

Approximately 1000 people attended the launch at the Leonda by the Yarra function centre in Hawthorn.

Tennis player turned state Liberal candidate Sam Groth was the emcee at the event and opened proceedings by welcoming the room of “real Liberals” – another dig at Ryan.

All happy and clappy. Josh Frydenberg at his campaign launch.

All happy and clappy. Josh Frydenberg at his campaign launch.Credit:Chris Hopkins

The room was full of federal and state Liberal MPs. The federal MPs include Katie Allen, Michael Sukkar, Sarah Henderson, David Van and James Paterson. The state MPs include David Southwick, David Davis and Wendy Lovell.

Absent, though, was John Howard – a former PM who knows more than most about losing his own formerly safe seat. Groth read a message from Howard saying he would have been there but was attending the baptism of his youngest grandchild.

March 27

Residents of Melbourne’s genteel eastern suburbs of Hawthorn, Kew and Balwyn would have been forgiven for thinking the federal election is mere days away.

Their seat of Kooyong is awash with blue and teal signage – an in-your-face illustration of the threat posed by climate-focussed independents in the Liberal heartland, where the conservatives are set to spend up to $2 million and new polling suggests the Coalition vote has dipped.

Josh Frydenberg and rival Monique Ryan with duelling advertising in the Kooyong electorate.

Josh Frydenberg and rival Monique Ryan with duelling advertising in the Kooyong electorate.Credit:Simon Schluter

Barely a phone box or shopping centre information board is not plastered with the beaming smile of the incumbent, Josh Frydenberg. His team has booked out digital billboards at major intersection in the seat, which one company rents for $33,000 a month, until the election. At three local cinemas, a paid message from Australia’s Treasurer plays between the trailers.

His opponent Monique Ryan – a senior paediatric neurologist and former Labor Party member – is seen on up to 2000 smaller front-garden and shopfront window corflutes. More than 1800 donors have given her $1 million, and the campaign claims less than half has come from the Climate 200 fund convened by climate activist Simon Holmes a Court, the son of Australia’s first billionaire.


On the streets, Kooyong locals see bikes and trucks lugging around Dr Ryan’s billboards. On their phones, they have been bombarded in recent weeks by geolocated advertising on YouTube and TV streaming apps, which have made Dr Ryan one of the country’s biggest spenders on online political ads in recent months.

“No one has ever seen an on-the-ground campaign this intense so far out from an election,” a long-time Liberal campaigner said.

At stake is not just any of Australia’s 150 seats, but one of the Liberal Party’s most treasured and storied electorates. Additionally, the incumbent is a self-confessed prime ministerial aspirant and the person most likely to be the next Australian leader who comes from Victoria.

As Mr Frydenberg prepares for a crucial budget – with Australia drowning in a COVID-induced record debt approaching $1 trillion – and pursues his ambition to become a generational Liberal leader, he is confronted by a troubling demographic change on his home turf. Older and generally more conservative voters are dying, while younger, tertiary-educated and generally more progressive voters are moving into higher-density areas around Hawthorn and Kew.

In a sign of Mr Frydenberg’s focus on the poll, the Coalition scrapped a long-standing commitment to build car parks at train stations, which attracted criticism from locals and the national audit office. The embarrassing about-face was influenced by prominent local Liberals, including former Hawthorn MP John Pesutto and Kennett government minister Mark Birrell, who warned of the political consequence of persisting with the policy.

Labor’s head office will spend no money in Kooyong, and will likely direct preferences to the independent, while the Greens have lost momentum after high-profile lawyer Julian Burnside ran in 2019. It means the contest will be between Mr Frydenberg and Dr Ryan, who told The Age she has former senior Liberal staffers in her army of 1300 volunteers.

Independent Kooyong candidate Monique Ryan.

Independent Kooyong candidate Monique Ryan.Credit:Eddie Jim

She cites the same three priorities as the other 20 “Voices of” candidates around Australia: action on the “climate emergency” (for which she proposes at least 60 per cent emissions reductions by 2030), gender equity, and integrity in politics. She believes she can win, and is motivated by the ability to create change if she holds the balance of power in a hung Parliament.

“There’s a real thirst for change in this community … and it’s gathering impetus really quickly. We can see that,” she said.

“It’s going to be very, very close and that’s why the Liberals are coming as hard as they are, and it’s getting personal already. They know Mr Frydenberg is under threat and that’s not a pleasant place for him to be.”

Her reference to personal attacks relates to scrutiny she received for not declaring her membership of the Labor Party between 2007-10 in her first two media interviews (she confirmed she was a party member in a later interview).

Dr Ryan, 54, says she joined the ALP hoping then-leader Kevin Rudd would address the issue of climate change, but quit in disappointment. She insists she never attended meetings and believes it was not misleading to say she was a political cleanskin, though her Labor background will inevitably be targeted by the Liberal Party to dissuade disaffected conservatives from switching their support.

“I don’t think joining a party on one occasion 15 years ago makes me not a cleanskin … it doesn’t mean I’m a Labor stooge,” she said, declining to say which party she would support if one party did not secure a majority.

The anti-Frydenberg push has frustrated Zach Ristevski, 60, who has been cutting the Kooyong MP’s hair for years at Camberwell Junction.

“I don’t piss in his pocket, I tell him what I’m hearing,” he said. “And I really don’t hear much negative stuff against him. They are ganging up on him and I don’t know if people like that. With JobKeeper and managing the economy through the pandemic, talking to people today people are still saying he’s done a good job.”


But polling for Mr Holmes a Court’s Climate 200 group suggests at least some Kooyong voters have shifted away from the Morrison government, whose leader is particularly unpopular in inner-city seats in major cities.

Its data shows Mr Frydenberg’s primary vote has dropped from 49.5 per cent at the last election to below 40 per cent. The primary vote figure is an average figure derived from polls between October and March this year. The polls were conducted by telephone and online by political consultancy Redbridge, which is run by former Labor campaigner Kos Samaras but also employs Liberal figures. Climate 200 would not release primary vote data for any other candidate, including Dr Ryan.

“Seat-by-seat polling is only a temperature read of what the electorate feels like when they are surveyed, but it is not a predictor of how they will vote,” Mr Samaras said of electorate-focused pollin.

Mr Samaras, who is conducting polling for Climate 200 across Australia, added that it was a “matter of time” before Kooyong was lost to the Liberal Party because of the rising number of tertiary-educated young voters moving into densely populated parts of Hawthorn and Kew.

ABC election guru Antony Green believes the Climate 200 group is better organised this time.

ABC election guru Antony Green believes the Climate 200 group is better organised this time.Credit:Jacky Ghossein

Speculation about losing Kooyong has spawned a sense of deja vu for the Treasurer’s team, who read stories before the 2019 election about the Liberal primary vote dropping to 40 per cent, only to end up polling close to 50 per cent and winning comfortably. The party’s own internal polling showed the Treasurer’s primary vote had crumbled to the high 30s before the last election.

The strong 2019 result fuelled optimism among Liberals, who believe challengers can gain media attention and animate progressive voters in the seat but ultimately come unstuck due to the popularity of Mr Frydenberg, who was the preferred Liberal leader (38.5 per cent compared to Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s 31 per cent) in a February poll by Roy Morgan.

Internal Liberal polling indicated the Kooyong MP’s primary vote was about 50 per cent around October, before Dr Ryan’s candidacy was announced.

ABC election analyst Antony Green said Dr Ryan could only win if her primary was about 30 per cent and the Liberal Party’s dropped below 45. These markers were met when Liberals Tony Abbott and Sophie Mirabella lost their seats to independents.

“If Frydenberg is under 40, he’s in big trouble,” Mr Green said. “If the Liberals are anywhere under 45 and the independent is above 30, and about 80 per cent of Labor and Greens preferences flow to the independent, they can win.”


“Nobody knew who Oliver Yates [the independent who polled 9 per cent in Kooyong in 2019] was. The difference this time is the [Climate 200] candidates are all career women, and in electorates like Kooyong there are lots of career women. They are better organised this time, and they are getting special focus from the media.”

A geographical fissure exists in Kooyong. In much of the western part of the electorate closer to the city, where Hawthorn and Kew lie, the Liberal primary vote sits in the low 40s and the Greens vote is as high as 35.

Mr Frydenberg’s bulwark comes in the less densely populated and more family-based part of the electorate that runs from Canterbury to Balwyn North. Here, his primary vote sits in the mid-50s.

Dr Ryan’s most important task will be to peel off as many of these Liberal voters as possible. If her support comes largely from those who supported a non-Liberal party at the last poll, it is unlikely she will be able to leapfrog Mr Frydenberg after preferences are distributed.

In Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn, where Dr Ryan’s campaign office is located, all but one of 10 residents surveyed by The Age recognised Mr Frydenberg when showed a photograph, compared with five who knew Dr Ryan. At a shopping strip in Balwyn, all 10 identified the Treasurer while six knew who Dr Ryan was. Far few corflutes are erected in suburban streets in Balwyn than the backstreets of Hawthorn.

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