Tim Murray is the Labor candidate for the seat of Wentworth, and suddenly has a good shot of snatching the Liberal stronghold. Picture: John Appleyard
Tim Murray is the Labor candidate for the seat of Wentworth, and suddenly has a good shot of snatching the Liberal stronghold. Picture: John Appleyard

Surprise face could replace Turnbull

IF NOT for a series of events in Canberra a few weeks ago, the vast majority of Australians would never have known Tim Murray's name.

As the Labor candidate in the Liberal-held seat of Wentworth in Sydney's inner east, he faced an impossible battle against the popular incumbent, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

"It was completely unwinnable - I would've needed a 17.8 per cent swing to win," Mr Murray said.

But then the Government imploded in a bitter civil war, leading to two leadership challenges and the eventual ousting of Mr Turnbull.

He promptly quit politics, forcing an upcoming by-election that on current polling since the messy coup has Labor and the Liberals in a dead heat.

Suddenly, Mr Murray, an economist and father-of-three, is a good shot at snatching the electorate and plunging Scott Morrison's one-seat majority government into chaos.

"It's really changed things," Mr Murray said, in perhaps the biggest understatement of the year.


Before the leadership chaos, from the moment Mr Murray was endorsed in May, he had a very clear plan for his campaign. And it involved running twice.

He had a hunch that the Super Saturday by-elections in July might not go Labor's way and that an early election would be called shortly after.

"If Labor had stumbled, I think the Libs would've smelled blood in the water and it would've been on," he said.

"I didn't think the Liberals would win that election but I thought Malcolm certainly would hold his seat. But my sense was he wouldn't want to stick around once he wasn't PM anymore, so he'd go and there'd be a subsequent by-election."


Tim Murray had no hope of winning in Wentworth — until Malcolm Turnbull was knifed and quit politics. Picture: John Appleyard
Tim Murray had no hope of winning in Wentworth — until Malcolm Turnbull was knifed and quit politics. Picture: John Appleyard


And it was that poll Mr Murray thought he could have a good shot of winning.

What actually eventuated - Labor's stellar run in Longman, crippling instability in the government and the knifing of a PM - couldn't have been anticipated.

Nor could the willingness of rusted on Liberals to hear out a Labor man on issues like climate change and education.

"At the end of the day, we knew we'd always be fighting a tough campaign. Our party has the best policies to appeal to the electorate and that hasn't changed. Our chances of convincing people of that have changed though. They're more likely to listen."


The popularity of Mr Turnbull among his electorate was enormous.

While his government might have been struggling in the polls nationally, his personal standing in Wentworth was incredibly high.

This might be a long-held Liberal seat, but as election analyst Antony Green pointed out, Mr Turnbull made it one of the safest in the land.

Now, that is at significant risk.

"People are angry at the way Malcolm has been treated," Mr Murray said.

"Many have come up to me and they'll say they've voted Liberal all of their life, but this time around they'll vote for me.

"Someone said to me the other day that Wentworth hasn't left the Liberal Party, the Liberal Party left Wentworth."


Labor’s candidate for Wentworth Tim Murray with his family.
Labor’s candidate for Wentworth Tim Murray with his family.


Those disaffected Liberal voters might jump and see a large protest vote come Labor's way.

It also depends on who is preselected to run, with a number of names being floated as potential candidates.

And a strong list of independent candidates, including the well-known and locally popular Dr Kerryn Phelps, could make it a very tight contest.


Mr Murray was born in Waverley Hospital, a short drive from where he and his family live now in Tamarama.

He spent 20 years living in China, working as a commodities specialist for an Australian mining company and dabbling in business.

"I started a media company, which was challenging in a country like that," he said.

Five years ago, he returned to Sydney, moved into a terrace house in Bondi Junction, and started a financial services firm.

"When I joined the Tamarama Surf Club, I would drive there from my office in the city and realised how much better the traffic was over there," he said.

"So, we moved to Tamarama. It's one of the few places in the east with a good run into the CBD."

Mr Murray knows the area well. Over the course of his interview with news.com.au, he rattles off local landmarks, major roads and different quirks of the community.

Wentworth is one of the most densely populated electorates in the country. It's also incredibly diverse, bordered by the colourful urban pocket of Kings Cross across to the glamour of Bondi, right up to the millionaire's enclave of Vaucluse and Point Piper.

"There's an incredible mix," Mr Murray said. "There's city, beach and harbourside. There's wealth and there's not. There's a very, very strong Jewish community. There are students and families."


The perception Australians might have of this part of the world, thanks to Mr Turnbull's enormous personal wealth, is that the privilege is widespread.

"There are people doing it tough," Mr Murray said.

Outside of the mansions and beachfront homes are countless middle-class families who face the same challenges as many other Australians.

"Housing affordability is an issue I want to focus on. For a lot of people, especially young people, I know housing is important for them. Home ownership nationally in the under-35 age group has gone from 60 per cent down to 48 per cent."

And there is plenty of inequality.

"In the Elizabeth Bay part of the electorate there are quite a few people who are homeless and Bondi Junction has people who sleep rough."


Of the wealthy part of Wentworth, home to the who's who of big business and money, the vast majority vote Liberal and probably always will.

Mr Murray knows swaying those residents will be incredibly hard, if not impossible.

But he received an unlikely endorsement from Alex Turnbull, the former PM's son, who is a Singapore-based investment banker with lucrative connections.

He even spruiked for donations, resulting in a flurry of cash from the top end of town.

"Just because people are wealthy doesn't mean they're automatically uncaring about other people in the community," Mr Murray said.

"They do their bit. They contribute through volunteering and giving to causes. These people want to do things to help. That's who I want to be speaking to (from that demographic) in this campaign."

The electorate split is about 40 per cent uber-wealthy, or "harbourside" as Mr Murray calls it, and without a chunk of those votes he'll struggle to get over the line.

"Look, I think it's unlikely I'll win. Mathematically, it's hard. But who knows?"


He doesn't have a major party opponent yet, but Mr Murray said there are signs of more sinister campaigning already.

It's why he's keen to shelter his wife Pauline, an early childhood teacher at a Catholic school, and their two sons, 8 and 9, and daughter, 6, from the limelight.

"They won't be campaigning with me," he said.

"I've put a photo of my family (on my website) but I don't want to expose them to the negativeness. It's me running for office, not them."


Tim Murray says the community is angry over how Malcolm Turnbull was treated by the Liberals. Picture: David Gray/AP
Tim Murray says the community is angry over how Malcolm Turnbull was treated by the Liberals. Picture: David Gray/AP


His reason for running, especially in what began as an unwinnable seat, is community - he's passionate about local issues and wants to give a voice to them.

But the "dark arts" of elections is something he's not fond of.

"The more it's a perception that I might win, the harder the mud will be thrown. It's unfortunate. I'd like to bring civility back to politics, meet people in the middle and find a common ground rather than attack differences.

"We can't continue as a country with this level of dark competitiveness in our politics. Democracy only works when we meet in the middle. When we polarise like we have, you get dysfunction."

But attacks show that he has certain people rattled, he said.

"I think the more of the dirty nature of it from opponents, the more disaffected Liberal voters might be inclined to vote for me."

A date for the by-election hasn't yet been set, but it's likely to fall in late October.

Regardless of the outcome, Mr Murray thinks his participation will be a win for Wentworth in the long run.

"If I don't win, I'll go back to the surf club and my community activities. If I get a bigger profile from the campaign, it'll make it easier to achieve things in my area."

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