Climate change not the only hot topic in 'wackiest electorate'

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 November, 2007, 12:00am

With less than a week to go before Australia's general election, the fight for the country's smallest and wealthiest electorate has descended into a mix of political intrigue, sexual innuendo and raunchy stunts.

The marginal seat of Wentworth in Sydney includes the famed sands of Bondi Beach, multimillion-dollar mansions, a grubby red light district and the epicentre of Australia's gay scene.

It is held by the richest man in Parliament, former investment banker, barrister and aspiring Liberal prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull. His Labor challenger is former human rights lawyer George Newhouse.

Both are up against Mr Newhouse's glamorous blonde ex-girlfriend, Dani Ecuyer, in what one Australian newspaper described as 'the world's wackiest electorate'.

Ms Ecuyer, 43, a single mother and former investment banker, has been accused of standing as an independent candidate just to spite her former lover.

She dismisses the allegation, insisting she is campaigning on environmental issues because she is appalled at Prime Minister John Howard's inaction on climate change.

Australia and the US are the only developed countries to refuse to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, which has emerged as key issue ahead of next Saturday's polls.

'There are attempts to portray me as a bimbo and a spiteful, scorned ex-lover,' Ms Ecuyer said.

'That's rubbish, and it's not acceptable. George and I split up in September, but I was being asked by supporters back in February to stand as a candidate. My decision to stand has absolutely nothing to do with him. We only went out together for six months.'

Ms Ecuyer has been criticised for organising a media photo opportunity in which she was carried on a surfboard onto Bondi Beach by a pair of shirtless hunks. The muscle-bound models were intended to appeal to gay voters. But the stunt failed to impress other environmental campaigners.

'Climate change isn't a fad; it isn't a game. It's something we are taking seriously,' Climate Change Coalition campaigner Dixie Coultan said.

Ms Ecuyer has virtually no chance of winning the seat herself, but under Australia's preferential voting system, her votes may decide whether it goes to Mr Turnbull or her ex-boyfriend. A swing of just 2.5 per cent would hand the seat to Labor, which polls have suggested is heading for a landslide victory.

The three-way contest has been further muddied by accusations that a high-profile journalist used a mixture of flirtation and e-mail threats to intimidate Mr Newhouse.

But the journalist from The Australian and her editor claimed the e-mails were sent in jest.

Mr Turnbull has spent an estimated A$1 million (HK$6.9 million) trying to retain what was once regarded as a safe ruling Liberal Party seat.

He faces a tough fight because many of his well-heeled, environmentally conscious constituents are furious that as environment minister he last month approved a A$1 billion wood pulp mill in Tasmania.