Coogee candidates hit the booths


Photo: Ina Holzapfel

On the first day of pre-polling, local candidates and volunteers line the footpath outside  Randwick Town Hall handing out ‘How to Vote’ leaflets in their final week of campaigning for the marginal seat of Coogee.

Two weeks ago, political candidates vying to become their state electorate’s Member of Parliament (MP) entered the visibility contest of local campaigning. Not the first time for incumbent Labor MP Marjorie O’Neill.

“I see your face everywhere; 100 per cent you’re going to win, you’ve been everywhere,” a passing voter told O’Neill.

In the last state election in 2019, O’Neill, a fifth generation Brontë local and former university lecturer, won the seat by a 1.6 per cent margin. As a result, Coogee was one of only two seats Labor won from the Liberal Party. Redistribution since has increased the Labor margin to an estimated 2.1 to 2.3 per cent.

“I feel the importance of this and I don’t wwaste it,” said O’Neill, recalling the experience of her first day in the chamber in the NSW Parliament.

“I’m not a career politician; I was very happily a university academic,” she said. “I got into politics because I was deeply unhappy with a lot of issues and my view is I stay in politics as long as I can change things, and then I’ll leave.”

Photo: Ina Holzapfel

Covid-19 led the new Coogee MP to start a community digital newsletter with specific information relevant to the electorate; this has likely contributed to her increased visibility in this re-election campaign.

“It was a deliberate decision we made to assist the community, but I think a lot of people now know me from that,” she said.

While Covid-19 was an unexpected problem, public transport accessibility has been an issue that predates the 2019 state election.

Public transport and the privatisation of Sydney’s bus services have been the subject of constant debate, both in the electorate and the NSW Parliament.

For years construction of the L2 Light Rail service from Randwick to Circular Quay disrupted local bus services. When the L2 Line opened in December 2020, the full privatisation of Sydney’s bus service which followed in April 2022 made the situation worse.

“We know with the privatisation of public transport, we’ve seen the removal of 32 bus routes and over 60 bus stops,” said O’Neill. “Long before I was a member of parliament, I was actually talking about what was going to happen as [a consequence] of the Light Rail. Seven years ago they didn’t really believe me.”

Labor has been in opposition since 2011 which has limited the party’s ability to push for significant policy changes.

But O’Neill said the impact of “small things” can make a significant difference in the big scheme of things. As a beekeeper, she has been working with local community groups to create bee-friendly environments and spread native bee hives across the electorate.

“I’m a passionate environmentalist especially when it comes to bees which are critically important for our ecosystem,” she said. “I know its small, but if everyone was doing this kind of stuff it would make a huge difference.”

While a believer in the power of the individual when it comes to combating environmental degradation, she emphasises that the prevention and recognition of domestic violence has to be a community effort.

“It’s not a private issue, it’s not a family issue, it’s a community issue and we all have a responsibility to step in and address it,” she said.

Candidates walk the plank in Coogee. Photo: Ina Holzapfel

As the incumbent MP, O’Neill has had the opportunity to draw attention to those issues and prove herself to the electorate. Her opponents, Liberals candidate Kylie von Muenster and Greens candidate Rafaela Pandolfini, have some catching up to do.

Despite several attempts, von Muenster declined to be interviewed saying she was not permitted to talk to journalists without prior party approval.

Local artist and current Randwick City Council Deputy Mayor Pandolfi said: “If you look at the demographic of Coogee, it’s actually quite young. I think the NSW election, especially for Coogee, is a real opportunity for those voters to be heard.”

Pandolfini said she was “pretty disillusioned with Labor” but said she thinks the Liberal party has been in office “way too long”.

In the 2019 election, Lindsay Shurey. the Greens candidate for Coogee, received 14.5 per cent of the first preference votes with a swing of -4.1 per cent.

“There is no way I will win the seat. That’s an actual impossibility,” says Pandolfini. “I want people to [have the option] to vote for the Greens.”

The Greens candidate said she can foresee “things turning around” over the next decade if young voters continue to be disappointed by the major parties’ failure to deliver on election promises.

“So many ridiculous promises, but how come they can’t do it when they are in power?”

The Informed Medical Options Party candidate, Alicia Mosquera, although not an election hopeful for the seat, said she was sure many policies she would propose would be adopted “because they are actually for the people”. 

“It’s tricky as a small party because we don’t have the corporation above us,” said Mosquera, a trained naturopath. “People don’t know us and we don’t have the funding.” 

The Animal Justice Party’s Simon Garrod, the only male candidate throwing his hat in the ring, finds himself outnumbered in an all-female field.

Ina Holzapfel is a student at the University of Sydney studying a Master of Strategic Public Relations. She holds degrees in American Studies and International Security. As an amateur triathlete, she enjoys spending her time outdoors.