7am is a daily news podcast brought to you by the publishers of The Saturday Paper and The Monthly.
How to listen? Submit Newsletter signup Submit Website Submit

7am Podcast

The treasurer of Australia, Josh Frydenberg, is facing what he’s described as the fight of his political life. 7am producer Elle Marsh takes us inside the campaign of Doctor Monique Ryan.

The Vote: Monique Ryan vs The Treasurer of Australia

Read Transcript

On election night, the Melbourne seat of Kooyong could be one of the most fiercely contested in the country.

The treasurer of Australia, Josh Frydenberg, is facing what he’s described as the fight of his political life.

His opponent was virtually unknown to most Australians a few months ago, but now polls show she has a chance at victory. 

So who is the woman taking on the Treasurer?

Today, 7am producer Elle Marsh takes us inside the campaign of Doctor Monique Ryan.

 

Guest: Producer for 7am, Elle Marsh.

 

Read Transcript

Elle Marsh:
Was there one particular moment where you are like, that's it, I’ve got to run?

 

Monique Ryan:
I have a 13 year old son who was watching a David Attenborough documentary at the end of last year, and so at the beginning of last year. I could see the distress that it caused him in terms of the effect of anthropogenic climate change on our planet and how that was going to affect his future. That, for me, was very distressing.

 

But the moment where it all crystallised was when I saw an ad in the paper that said, are you the next independent candidate for Kooyong? And I looked at that and thought, You know, someone has to do that.  

 

And then I sort of thought, you know I could do that. 

 

[Theme Music Starts]

 

RUBY:
From Schwartz Media and 7am, I’m Ruby Jones, and this is The Vote.

 

On election night, the Melbourne seat of Kooyong could be one of the most fiercely contested in the country.

 

The Treasurer of Australia, Josh Frydenberg, is facing what he’s described as the fight of his political life.

 

His opponent was virtually unknown to most Australians a few months ago, but now polls show she has a chance at victory. 

 

So who is the woman taking on the Treasurer?

 

Today, 7am producer Elle Marsh, takes us inside the campaign of Doctor Monique Ryan.

 

It’s Monday May 16. 

 

[Theme Music Ends]

 

(Driving sounds)

 

ELLE MARSH:
It’s early April. And the election has just been called,

 

Elle:
There is one. To. Three..

 

I can see four billboards for Josh Frydenberg  

 

ELLE MARSH:
And I’m driving through Kooyong, the electorate that I grew up in the south east of Melbourne. 

 

Elle:
Thats a new apartment block. massive. Oh, I know what that is.. used to underage drinking there.

ELLE MARSH:
In every street I drive through, I see corflute signs staked in gardens and on peoples fences of two candidates. The first is of Josh Frydenberg. 

 

Elle:
I have never seen anything like this. 

 

ELLE MARSH:
Josh Frydenberg has been the Liberal member for Kooyong since 2010. He grew up here, went to school here, And now he's the treasurer. He's one of the government's most high profile members. 

 

Archival Tape -- Josh Frydenberg:
“I am honoured and privileged to represent the people of Kooyong, a place of strong community values and the home of the Liberal Party’s great founder, Sir Robert Menzies” 

 

ELLE MARSH:
The other candidate is Monique Ryan - who only six months ago was working as a doctor at the Royal Children's hospital. 

 

Elle:
Oh there’s another one..

 

ELLE MARSH:
Monique Ryan's posters feature a smiling picture of her, her dark curly hair sits against a fluro teal backdrop. 

 

That’s because Ryan is one what people are calling “teal” independents. They’re independent candidates – almost all women, who are running on a platform of climate action and integrity. They’re mostly running in blue-ribbon Liberal held seats - like Kooyong and at this point, there's a lot of hype but it's unclear if any of the new independents are real contenders. 

 

So I wanted to find out more about this independent in my old neighbourhood, Monique Ryan, I wanted to find out who Ryan is, how her campaign is running - and does she have what it take to beat one of the most powerful politicians in the country.

 

So I’m on my way to her house to find out.

 

(GPS and CAR Sounds: in 100 metres? Your destination will be on the left.) 

 

ELLE MARSH:
It’s early afternoon. Julia, who is Ryan’s assistant, greets me at the door. 

 

Elle:
Julia Hi. Good. How are you? 

 

Julia:
Mon's just finishing her speech. Finishing her speech. As you do.Yep. 

 

ELLE MARSH:
I walk into a light filled moss green kitchen that looks out onto a nice courtyard, and I find Ryan at her desk behind the kitchen. 

 

Elle:
Hi Mon 

 

Monique Ryan:
Hi Elle how are ya, I'm just writing a speech, I thought I shouldn't leave it to the last minute. 

 

ELLE MARSH:
She’s meant to be leaving for her official campaign launch in about 15 minutes. But she's still writing her speech. And this is the biggest event of the campaign so far. 

 

(Phone rings)

 

ELLE MARSH:
She's fielding calls as she types. including a call from her son, who has just played his first footy game of the season. 

 

Monique Ryan:
a hundred and 3 points. That's a big loss. Oh. 

 

ELLE MARSH:
He got smashed by over 100 points, which feels ominous.

 

Monique Ryan:
That's alright bubby you can’t win 'em all.

 

ELLE MARSH:
Ryan finishes writing her speech and is ready to race out the door. 

 

Monique Ryan:
Good, Um, did you print it? 

 

Julia:
Oh, shit, no. 

 

ELLE MARSH:
She just needs to print a speech now. 

 

(printing sounds)

 

ELLE MARSH:
But the printer is out of toner.

 

(printing sounds)

 

ELLE MARSH:
And then the computer freezes

 

Monique Ryan:
I can't get it to go.  

 

Julia:
What's it saved on? A drive?

 

Monique Ryan:
I'm not sure its saved actually, I just know that other people will be looking at this going amateurs, amateurs! 

 

ELLE MARSH:
We leave her house without the speech, this is not how I expect things to be running.

 

(car door shuts)

 

ELLE MARSH:
If Ryan’s going to be successful - she’s going to need a lot of help –  grassroots campaigns are won and lost by how well they’re organised and how many volunteers they can turn out.

 

So I want to get to know some of the people giving up their time to campaign for her. 

 

Volunteer:
Everyone should all have a clipboard I believe, thank you all for taking part in the doorknocking session.

 

ELLE MARSH:
There are almost 2000 volunteers working on Ryan’s campaign.  It’s a pretty mixed bunch, I’ve met former lifelong Liberal voters and socialists working on Ryan's campaign.

 

Volunteer:
Show of hands?

 

ELLE MARSH:
It’s a cold, windy Tuesday afternoon, I follow a few door knocking volunteers on their shift in Kew. 

I talk with Hew, he’s 25. And he’s done upwards of 200 hours. 

 

Hew:
It's a lot of time that I’ve put in now that I think about it but I haven’t really been focused on that, but focused on campaign.

 

ELLE MARSH:
And Rosemary, she’s 60, and was a swinging voter. 

 

Rosemary:
This has been a really life changing experience for me. I've never done anything like this before.

 

ELLE MARSH:
This is her first time volunteering on a campaign. 

 

(door buzz)

 

ELLE MARSH:
They seem to mostly have pleasant supportive conversations…

 

Rosemary:
Ok!

 

Elle:
Good one?

 

Rosemary:
Yeah he’s a supporter, he’s also met her down the street.

 

ELLE MARSH:
But Kooyong has a long Liberal history, and has a large base of long term conservative voters.

 

(Gate shuts)

 

Elle:
Not interested?

 

Rosemary:
Nup

 

ELLE MARSH:
The electorate is made up of Melbourne's affluent south eastern suburbs including Kew, Camberwell and Canterbury..

 

Elle:
What kind of architecture would you call this?

 

Rosemary:
Is it Georgian? Neo Georgian?

 

ELLE MARSH:
Residents of Kooyong have average incomes of roughly 130 thousand a year, the average house in Kew costs over 2.5 million dollars. Not only is Kooyong one of the most affluent areas in Victoria it has been a conservative stronghold for 122 years, that's since federation. 

 

Rosemary:
This was my first doorknock back in like February. They open the door and I said, I just did my spiel and they said you are on the land where Sir Robert Menzies was born, and I said oh Hallowed turf then, and he said Yes. I said well I’m guessing you probably wouldn't be interest in speaking with us and he said No.

 

ELLE MARSH:
So, not everyone is happy that Ryan is running. 

 

Old man:
I’m not voting for that silly person, she is a total fraud. 

 

ELLE MARSH:
Back at campaign launch - after the printer disaster - I’m following around Monique Ryan backstage at the Hawthorn Town Hall.

 

And she has finally gotten her hands on a copy of her speech…

 

Monique Ryan:
We've got it. We have a speech. One copy. One copy. You're the best. 

 

ELLE MARSH:
As I Look out on the crowd its’s bigger than expected. There is a sea of teal t-shirts that are filling the hall and spilling out into the side hallways and through the doors.

 

*Crowd cheers*

 

Monique Ryan:
Oh, my goodness. Thank you so much ..

 

ELLE MARSH:
She stands in front of roughly 500 people, her husband Pete and her son, who's still in his footy shorts are sitting in the front row.

 

Monique Ryan:
This is the most important election of our lives. We stand on the cusp, and this is no exaggeration of making Australian social and political history. None of this would have happened without your support and your belief. We have brought the word Corflute to Kooyong. ..

 

ELLE MARSH:
Monique outlines her key policies. She says that both the major parties are not doing enough on climate change and that she will push for an integrity commission. 

 

Monique Ryan:
We've also talked with the young people of Kooyong. They tell us that they're concerned about three things: action on climate change, housing affordability and the cost of tertiary education. The major parties will not offer action on those three things in May. The next generation needs us to do better.

 

ELLE MARSH:
She says she could and will be in a position to hold the government to account.

 

Monique Ryan:
I've been called a fake independent by Mr. Frydenberg. Feels real. I'm not a fake independent. I have no affiliations with any party. There are no deals. There are no agreements. I'm not beholden to fossil fuel or mining interests. I owe no debts to two party factions or two media magnates. 

 

But, you know, in truth, I'm not really independent either because I am not alone. I have the support of a wonderful husband. I have a loving family and friends. And I have a community of 1500 volunteers working day and night for a shared dream..

 

ELLE MARSH:
As the crowd cheers, Ryan is holding back tears. 

 

As you might expect from a doctor who has succeeded in the high pressure environment of public hospitals for years, she’s pretty unflappable. The only time she seems vulnerable is when she talks about the support she has around.

 

Monique Ryan:
For me, the most stressful thing about this is the responsibility that I feel because I know how much it matters to so many people that I win. 

 

ELLE MARSH:
Later after the event. Ryan tells me that the most stressful part of running is that she doesn’t want to let people down.

 

Monique Ryan:
Not not for me personally, but because I know that if I can get there and I can be part of a small group of people who have the balance of power that will affect change, that will have implications for this country for the next 5,10, 15 years. 

 

That's the only thing that I find really difficult about this is the sense of responsibility that I feel. To get there and to be able to make that change.

 

ELLE MARSH:
At this point, Josh Frydenberg and Monique Ryan still haven’t been in the same room together. But there is a lot of talk about whether they will face each other in a debate before election day. 

 

ELLE:
So you are ready to debate him?

 

Monique Ryan:
Absolutely yes. I expect I’ll see him pre-polling and things like that, I kinda have the feeling he’s avoiding me actually. 

 

ELLE MARSH:
Each election in Kooyong - there’s this candidates forum run by the lighter footprints community group and Josh Frydenberg has attended the forums in the past.

 

Archival Tape -- Josh Frydenberg:
“If you want to run for public office, don't run away from an interview or a debate.”

 

ELLE MARSH:
But when it came to the day of the Kooyong Forum. He didn’t show.

 

Archival Tape -- Lighter Footprints:
“Tonight we are going to be hearing from the Labor candidate Peter Lynch, The Greens candidate Piers Mitcham and the independent candidate Monique Ryan. We’ve placed an empty chair on the stage to mark Mr Frydenbergs absence and to highlight our disappointment at his unwillingness to engage with you and be accountable to you, the voters of Kooyong..”

 

ELLE MARSH:
His no-show that day wasn't a sign that Frydenberg was backing down. 

 

Actually - it was the opposite. 

 

And in the days to come, the race for Kooyong would become more heated than anyone expected.

 

Archival Tape -- Reporter:
“Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is under pressure in his blue ribbon seat of Kooyong”

 

Archival Tape -- Reporter:
“It comes about two thirds of the way through what has been a clearly heated and at times quite personal and bitter campaign.”

 

ELLE MARSH:
We’ll be back in a moment.

 

[Advertisement]

 

ELLE MARSH:
The moment I realise that Ryan actually might be in with a chance is when it comes to light that Josh Fydenberg is privately telling journalists and staffers that he’s worried about his seat. 

 

It's 25 days until the election.

 

Archival Tape -- ABC News:
“This is not what you usually see in Kooyong at a federal election. Never before has a Liberal had to fight so hard to hold it.” 

 

ELLE MARSH:
New polling comes out suggesting what was unimaginable only a few months ago is actually in reach for Monique Ryan.

 

And I notice that two prominent Fydenberg billboards no longer have Liberal branding on them, they simply say “Keep Australia Secure, Keep Josh.” Another says Vote Independent, Create Risk. 

 

It's a clear sign that the Frydenberg team have changed tack, the fight is no longer friendly.

 

Archival Tape -- Josh Frydenberg:
“They are a slogan and a billboard and nothing more.” 

 

ELLE MARSH:
He’s calling her fake. 

 

Archival Tape -- Josh Frydenberg:
“They have decided to throw their lot in with this fake independent.”

 

ELLE MARSH:
And then at his campaign launch Frydenberg brings up Ryan’s mother in law. 

 

Archival Tape -- Josh Frydenberg:
“In her seventies, I think came up to me and said, Josh, I'm voting for you. I said, That's very nice. And she goes, I'm Monique Ryan's mother in law. So I said, Why are you voting for me? She said, Because you know what you're doing and you're a nice person. I said, Thank you very much.” 

 

ELLE MARSH:
The campaign has gotten personal. 

 

Elle:
How do you feel waking up in the morning and getting your mail and…

Monique Ryan:
It's a strange feeling when you see yourself as an old photo of yourself on a, you know, 10 or 15 year old thought of itself on a Liberal Party attack flyer.(laughs) But I really thought, you know, is that is that all you want to talk about?

 

ELLE MARSH:
Frydenberg has also been arguing that Ryan is not to be trusted because she previously was a member of the Labor party from 2007-2010, and also that her campaign has received funding from the climate lobby group, Climate 200. 

 

Archival Tape -- Josh Frydenberg:
“These fake independents are only challenging liberals. They run as a political party. They have no policy details. They have no costings. It's the vibe of the thing.” 

 

ELLE MARSH:
He’s arguing that she isn’t Independent because Climate 200 has also backed other independent campaigns. So I wanted to ask her about this.

 

Monique Ryan:
Look, I suspect a lot of the Liberal Party members have common donors. I have no relationship with any of the other independents. I can't speak for them in any capacity. I don't know how they're running their campaigns or what they're doing with them. But you know…

Elle:
You haven’t spoken to them about how you might, yeah if a couple of you get in how you might..

Monique Ryan:
No, there's been no discussion about anything like that. 

 

ELLE MARSH:
Ryan tells me that there is no organisation between Climate 200 funded independents. But despite that there is a lot of rhetoric in the media and from Liberal politicians about the climate 200 "teal" independents implying they’re virtually a political party. And so I looked into those claims. And these candidates have a range of different policies and priorities. But one thing they all have in common is that they back an emissions reduction target of at least 50% or more by 2030. 

 

The Ryan campaign says that less than a third of their funding comes from Climate200. The vast majority, they say, comes from individual donors. Monique says her policy platform isn’t informed by Climate 200, she says it's informed by her values, science and the Kooyong community, 

 

Archival Tape -- Reporter:
“Josh Frydenberg and his independent opponent, Monique Ryan, will face off in a debate today for the hotly contested seat of Kooyong.” 

 

ELLE MARSH:
Finally just 16 days before the election Josh Frydenberg and Monique Ryan agree to a debate, in front of undecided voters in Hawthorn.

 

I’m in Ryans headquarters to watch the debate…

 

- it’s busy, people are phone banking in booths and others are anxiously awaiting for the debate to begin.

 

There's energy drinks strewn across the youth volunteer table,

 

Volunter:
I got you a redbull, you want it?

 

Oh wow there's so much redbull

 

ELLE MARSH:
The delirium of the long volunteer hours is setting in. The group gathers around the screen. 

  

Archival Tape -- Reporter:
We are broadcasting from the chandelier in the old Hawthorn Town Hall, now the arts centre….

 

ELLE MARSH:
The two candidates stand side by side. Ryan wins the coin toss and makes her pitch to the crowd first.

 

Archival Tape -- Monique Ryan:
“My patients are children. My motivation for standing is their health and their future.”

 

ELLE MARSH:
Then Frydenberg goes..

 

Archival Tape -- Josh Frydenberg:
“I went to school in Hawthorn and I'm raising my family with my wife, Amy, in Hawthorn. I feel very much from Kooyong and I feel very much for Kooyong.” 

 

ELLE MARSH:
And then it’s on.

 

(Bell rings)

 

Archival Tape -- Monique Ryan:
Mr. Frydenberg In the 12 years that he has been a member for Kooyong, although Liberals have the ability to do this, has never crossed the floor on a matter of conscience.

 

Archival Tape -- Josh Frydenberg:
when I joined the Liberal Party, I did so because of its values, its values supporting the power of the individual as opposed to the collective.

 

Archival Tape -- Monique Ryan:
This is a man who votes with Barnaby Joyce every time. 

 

ELLE MARSH:
Frydenberg pivots to the economy… 

 

Archival Tape -- Josh Frydenberg:
If you don't have a strong economy, you can't build all those roads that you need if you don't have a strong economy. You can't lower taxes so that people can keep more of what they earn. 

 

Archival Tape -- Monique Ryan:
Well, I don't agree that we have a strong economy right now,

 

ELLE MARSH:
Ryan tries to get him on climate change

 

Archival Tape -- Monique Ryan:
This planet is heading towards unprecedented stresses.  

 

Archival Tape -- Josh Frydenberg:
Of course we're going to reduce our carbon footprint. That's a priority. But we've also got to ensure that electricity prices stay low.  

 

ELLE MARSH:
The integrity commission comes up.

 

Archival Tape -- Josh Frydenberg:
I'm all in for a Commonwealth Integrity Commission, but it has to be the right model.

 

Archival Tape -- Monique Ryan:
I think the reason this government doesn’t believe we need an ICAC is that it knows what we will find. 

 

ELLE MARSH:
And at a certain point it gets more personal.

 

Archival Tape -- Monique Ryan:
Anyone who's had any experience of a Victorian public hospital. And Mr. Frydenberg, you're the Treasurer for New South Wales. You weren't here. Anyone who's had experience of a Victorian public hospital in the last two years knows what it's like. 

 

Archival Tape -- Josh Frydenberg:
Well, Kieran, I'm not going to be insulted like that. My father's a surgeon. In fact he was.. 

 

ELLE MARSH:
After the debate, I go through and watch the Sky news interviews with audience members to see what they thought. A lot of them thought Frydenberg did well. But when I get to the office, a draft of Karen Middleton’s piece about the Liberal parties internal polling for the paper comes in. 

 

The draft headline reads: Liberal polling predicts loss for Josh Frydenberg and Tim Wilson. 

 

This isn’t just exclusively an issue for the Coalition in Kooyong - there are Independents challenging historically safe Liberal and National seats across the country. 

 

If independents are potentially going to take more of these kind of seats, and become a bigger part of politics – I want to find out how that has become a possibility and how it might shape how it our democracy. So I want to speak to the person who created the model that Ryan is following…

 

Cathy McGowan:
Hello. Cathy McGowan. 

Elle:
Hi, Cathy. How are you going? 

 

ELLE MARSH:
I call the former Independent for Indi, Cathy McGowan. She’s considered the godmother of Independents, and someone Monique Ryan herself looks up to, 

 

Cathy McGowan:
I'm a community worker, that that's what I do, that's my profession. So my approach was to bring the professional knowledge and skill of community work to politics. And that hadn't that hadn't been done before. 

 

ELLE MARSH:
McGowan says she spends 100 percent of her time thinking about how to engage as many people as possible and to get them involved in the political process. She tells me that she sees this as a key way of fostering connection within communities.

 

Cathy McGowan:
It's been in every single one of these independent electorates that have, that have run community independents. I all comment, Oh my gosh, you know, I've got to meet my community. I went out doorknocking and I discovered a whole section of my community I didn't know about…

 

ELLE MARSH:
And when it comes to genuine community involvement McGowan argues that this is something that the major parties, particularly the Liberals and Nationals have stopped doing properly.

 

Cathy McGowan:
I hope the parties pay attention to what we're doing and that they learn something that would be nice if they did. But if they don't I think they'll become a by-product and people will find other ways of organising. 

 

ELLE MARSH:
Whatever the election outcome, something big has happened in Kooyong. At the time of recording, almost 97 percent of Kooyong homes have been door-knocked by Ryan campaign volunteers. And a lot of these volunteers I’ve spoken to say they will continue this work in some shape or form after the election.This independent movement is not going away. 

 

Monique Ryan:
This is a strange sort of sprinting little marathon because it's a really long time. And yet at the same time, it's a really, really short time, and I really would like it to be over. 

 

ELLE MARSH:
At a time when there's large swathes of Australia switching off from politics, in this particular area of Melbourne, the opposite is happening. 

 

Monique Ryan:
We have a saying on the campaign. Chop wood carry water. Five hundred votes. Chop wood carry water. Five hundred votes, which basically means that every day we’ll keep doing the say thing we’ve been doing and cause we’ve been seeing ourselves making incremental progress and so thats just what we have to do every single day. We’ll just keep chopping wood and carrying water. and try to get another 500 votes cause it could well come down to 500 votes.

 

ELLE MARSH:
It’s 7 days until the election and the pre-polling booths are now open.

 

My final opportunity to speak to Ryan before the big day is a three minute window at a pre -polling booth and I had been given time to ask one question.

 

Elle:
Monique, do you think you’re going to win? 

 

Monique Ryan:
I honestly believe it’s going to be so close. I think it’s on a knife edge. And that’s part of the anxiety, is really having no idea what’s going to happen.

 

Elle:
Do you have any regrets about running?

 

Monique Ryan:
Oh, goodness, no. No. This is the most exhilarating, interesting, intense, exhausting, fascinating, fun thing I’ve ever done in my life. And I’m a little bit nervous about what happens after May the 21st, actually. 

 

ELLE MARSH:
The federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg declined our requests for an interview. 

 

Special thanks to filmmaker Kevin Holloway for additional audio. 

 

[Advertisement]

 

RUBY:
Also in the news today.

 

Atleast, 10 people were killed by a mass-shooter in Buffalo, New York, yesterday. 

 

The shooter targeted African-Americans and it has been described by local police as a "racially motivated hate crime”.

 

In a manifesto, the gunman cited the Australian-born man who perpetrated the Christchurch shooting as a major influence on his extreme, right-wing ideology.

 

And

 

Elon Musk’s bid to takeover Twitter is on hold.

 

The billionaire claimed his bid was only temporarily delayed while his ‘team’ investigates Twitter’s assertion that only 5 per cent of accounts are fake or spam accounts.

 

I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am, see you tomorrow.

 

Host

Ruby Jones is an investigative journalist and host of 7am.

Guest

Elle Marsh is a features and field producer at 7am, a daily podcast from The Saturday Paper.