In a key Sydney marginal seat, where Labor is making alarming noises about “cuts” to health, a local doctor is assuring voters there is no cause for alarm.
Liberal Party candidate Michael Feneley has a real chance of evicting Labor from Kingsford Smith, a seat the ALP has never lost. Dr Feneley is a renowned cardiologist at St Vincent’s Hospital, with an academic appointment at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in the heart of the electorate.
The doctor is hoping that politically it will be a case of third time lucky. In 2010, he established a solid base of support in the area, then in 2013 ate into Labor’s margin. He topped the first preference count in 2013, but lost on Greens preferences. A victory this week would be a historic one. Labor has held Kingsford Smith for 67 years.
It’s not just the good doctor’s bedside manner that’s working for him. Demographic shifts are changing the political balance in a seat where average incomes have been rising above the national average. Opinion polls show the Coalition leading 51 to 49 lead over Labor nationally.
Dr Feneley, a resident of Randwick for the past 44 years, needs only a swing 2.74% to triumph against 43-year old sitting member Matt Thistlethwaite.
Despite only being endorsed by the Liberal Party on May 16, Dr Feneley told the Southern Courier that “the seat is a much more marginal seat than it was. It should be clear to people by now that I am committed”. He also said that Labor’s neglect of the area when it was a safe seat was a motivation for his candidacy in Kingsford Smith.
Dr Feneley forcefully rejects Labor’s claims that a Coalition government will gut and privatise Medicare. He told the Southern Courierthat he was a medical student at UNSW when a Liberal government opened the then new Prince of Wales Hospital in 1993. “Right now it is another Liberal Government that is building a new version of Prince of Wales Hospital at a cost of more than half a billion dollars,” he said.
He has accused the Labor local member of running a scare campaign, and jumped on Opposition leader Bill Shorten’s admission that Labor could not fund a $57 billion promise for healthcare made under the Rudd government.
Keen to emphasise that a Coalition government poses “no threat to Medicare”, Dr Feneley urged Mr Thistlethwaite to end the “phoney calls [to locals] about saving Prince of Wales Hospital”. His view was supported by South Eastern Area Health Service chairman Michael Still, who said the Prince of Wales was not experiencing any cuts in funding from state or federal governments.
“Listening to the issues that most concern the residents of Kingsford Smith,” is what matters, Dr Feneley says. He’s been actively door-knocking residents in the electorate, highlighting the government’s message of “jobs and growth”’ for the economy.
Coalition heavyweights including the Federal Minister for Small Business, Kelly O’Dwyer, have parachuted in to lend a hand. Ms O’Dwyer promoted the Coalition’s promised company tax cuts and investments in science and technology.
Dr Feneley, who holds the title of Conjoint Professor at UNSW, strongly supports Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s plans to invest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics as part of the government’s ‘Ideas Boom’.
Speaking at a candidates’ debate in the electorate in early June, Dr Feneley focused on increasing employment, innovative technology, and public transport enhancements as positive issues for the area. Citing recent Federal budget and Liberal State government announcements, Dr Feneley argues that local communities would benefit from incentives to small business and Sydney’s South East Light Rail project.
Sharing his own commuter experiences with the Kingsford Smith debate audience, Dr Feneley claimed that it currently “takes 40 minutes to get from Maroubra into the city and a third of the buses do not run on time”. He added that the State Liberal government had invested over $2 billion dollars into the light rail project and “would like to see it extended to Maroubra and La Perouse to service new developments at Little Bay and the Long Bay Jail site once it is sold”.
Dr Feneley was unavailable for an interview with UniPollWatch.
This article first published at UniPollWatch on June 29, 2016