David vs. Goliath battle for Scott Morrison’s safe seat

Scott Morrison must really be feeling every one of his 47 years of age. As he travels the nation far from home spruiking an election budget to a sceptical nation, a would-be usurper stalks him in his own backyard.

At just 20 years of age, Wollongong University student David Atkins is Labor’s candidate in Morrison’s seat of Cook. And while the electorate is as safe and sturdy for the Liberal Party as the middle-class bungalows that dot “the Shire” of Sutherland, the challenger has come looking for the youth vote.

He’s clean-cut, a local born and bred, and a digital native,

“Only Labor can protect schools, hospitals and Medicare from serious funding cuts, and make housing more affordable for people of my generation,” he told UniPollWatch.

Labor hopes the Treasurer’s failure to wind back generous tax concessions for the rich on negative gearing will be seen as a blow to young Australians struggling the enter the housing market. And if the man responsible happens to live in Cook, young voters there might just vent their anger on him.

Atkins claims research shows “only one in one thousand properties are within reach of the average renter” – which may partly explain why so many young Sydneysiders still live with their parents. The Labor candidate is the son of two schoolteachers, so strong support for the Gonski plan for needs-based school funding is a given, and cuts to spending on higher education border on barbarism.

“The [Coalition] government’s decision to discontinue funding Gonski… means that children will receive a substandard education without it,” said Atkins.

Labor’s support for marriage equality and, at the margins, softer rhetoric around border protection, are seen as buttressing Labor’s youth-oriented strategy, and may possibly attract votes away from the Greens.

As he pours his energies into his campaign for the July 2 federal election, the young pretender may be looking for extensions on his assignments. When UniPollWatch met him, he was handing out flyers in the morning commuter rush at Miranda railway station in Sydney’s south. Several of his former teachers and classmates from Caringbah High School stopped to chat.

The differences between the candidates are social as well as generational. The Treasurer and sitting member, Scott Morrison, is a Pentecostal Christian conservative. His opponent is an agnostic who has used his Facebook account to post a picture of the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, as the evil King Joffrey from the TV series Game of Thrones. “Winter is coming,” the caption warns, should the Liberals be re-elected.

And while Scott Morrison sells his budget to the big end of town, David Atkins is slaving away two days a week at his part-time job at a building and landscaping supply company in Taren Point.

“It is an unfair budget and will see Cook lose funding to vital services such as healthcare and education”, said Atkins.

Whether he’s criticising cuts to Medicare that affect services at Sutherland Hospital or blaming traffic congestion on a lack of investment in roads and transport infrastructure, he’s doing his best to sound like the local he is. The way Atkins puts it, Shire dwellers are having tough time enjoying other parts of Sydney because it’s too hard to get to them.

As an undergraduate student of politics and history, Atkins must know that with a swing of 15.8% to Labor required to take the seat, he has no hope of winning. Morrison’s Christian values, tradie-friendly policies and manly stance on border protection go down well in a part of Sydney that some years back experienced shocking anti-Muslim rioting.

Ironies indeed abound in an electorate that takes in Botany Bay, where the first European boat people set foot on the land that would become modern Australia.

None of which should bother David Atkins. For if political communication is the art of rationalising defeat and redefining victory, a not half bad performance might serve as a springboard to a brilliant political career.

Scott Morrison was unavailable for an interview to respond to questions about facing David Atkins at the upcoming election.

This article was first published in UniPollWatch