Morrison washes his hands of teal contests amid Libs’ two-tier campaign

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Premier Scott Morrison has all but washed his hands of campaigns to save moderate inner city Liberal MPs facing serious challenges from ‘teal’ independents.

Mr Morrison made his fifth campaign stop in Labor-held Parramatta on Thursday, a push into rival territory that would usually be a show of confidence.

But he also highlighted the seats where the Prime Minister has been conspicuously absent – the fight against incumbents of the Blue Ribbon seats in North Sydney, Wentworth, Goldstein and Kooyong.

Mr Morrison would not answer directly whether he was campaigning in Wentworth or being ‘toxic’ in the town centre. But his non-response was more revealing.

The Prime Minister has suggested that the independent challenges are just an accessory to the real campaign: an effort to obtain a majority government.

“[This campaign] is a choice between a Labor government and […] a liberal-national government,” he said.

“I’m particularly focused on the contest unfolding between your two alternatives for government.”

He appeared to confirm that the Coalition was now broadcasting two campaign messages – a national call with Mr Morrison at the helm and a targeted broadcast on a different frequency in four crucial electorates.

One Coalition activist put it bluntly: the prime minister’s personal unpopularity and record on climate and an integrity commission is kryptonite for progressive liberals.

It fell to another coalition MP, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, himself fighting to retain the Kooyong seat, to make appearances in the chairs.

Josh Frydenberg took on independent challenger Monique Ryan in a debate at Kooyong on Thursday.

But as a debate against independent challenger Monique Ryan showed on Thursday, Mr. Frydenberg has a delicate job balancing the roles of National Coalition pitcher and grassroots campaigner.

He pointed out Dr. Ryan on the state of the economy. But an admission appeared to acknowledge the difficulties of a broader campaign posed to his re-election bid.

“If people vote for me – people need to know that if they want to keep me as a local member, and they may have a problem with something the Liberal Party has said or done and they want to kick us for that – at the end of the day, that might not leave me as a local member,” he said.

It was on climate change that the challenger, Dr. Ryan, scored perhaps his most important blow. She recently backed a policy to advance the rate of emissions reductions by 2030, which would be a significant step forward for Labour, but especially for the coalition.

“He’s a man who votes with Barnaby Joyce, every time, against what is essentially our national interest,” she said.

Liberal activists concede that these four seats are crucial.

A recently floated idea that inner-city seats could be replaced by gains elsewhere on the electoral map would be an electoral ploy that a Coalition strategist describes as “crazy brave” for a government that cannot afford to lose a single seat.

The seat poll is not always reliable, but underlines the seriousness of the challenge.

Last week Dave Sharma was down 53-47 points after preferences at Wentworth. More recently, the Australia Institute had independent challenger Zoe Daniel ahead of Goldstein with a 12-point lead so strong it was straining credulity.

Talk to DT, incumbent Tim Wilson, Daniel’s opponent, did not say directly when asked whether Mr Morrison’s apparent withdrawal from races like his is a help or a hindrance. But he suggested the national campaign was not the answer.

“The antidote to the so-called ‘Independents’ party’s multimillion-dollar astroturf campaigns is a real connection by local MPs,” he said.

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