Will Andrew Charlton beat the local female candidate in Parramatta?

Kovacic is the founder of Western Sydney Women, an advocacy group for local women who aspire to be “economically independent and confident”.

Both parties say the contest will be very close, and neither side is certain of victory.

The race exposes the fault lines of contemporary politics, where women and candidates from diverse backgrounds still struggle to get preselection for safe seats and where politics-as-usual run by a centralized party HQ may not be as successful as it once was.

A Liberal Insider who spoke on condition of anonymity estimated Kovacic would need about a 6 per cent swing to win Parramatta.

“The seat is on a margin of 3.5 per cent, and you have to add another 3 per cent for the Morrison factor,” he said.

“We have clawed all that back, without a doubt,” he said.

Parachuting Charlton into the seat was “the most idiotic thing Labor could do.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has visited the electorate five times.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has visited the electorate five times. Credit:James Brickwood

“It was easy to see why they did it,” he said. “They’ve got a career path for him. But this is the wrong seat to do it.”

Charlton has been labeled a “wannabe Westie” by NSW Transport Minister David Elliott.

During a visit to the electorate last week, Morrison took a dig at Charlton when he described Kovacic as “the real eel”, a reference to the area’s beloved Parramatta Eels league team (Kovacic has served on the steering committee of Parramatta Eels’ Women@ Eels). Kovacic actually lives just outside the electorate, in West Pennant Hills.

It’s unclear if voters care – one poll published this week had Labor winning the seat on a two-party preferred vote of 57 per cent to 43 per cent.

In an interview at Granville’s Hawa Chicken this week, Charlton said his former eastern suburbs residence “is a matter of public record” and that he’s had great support from local branch members.

He and his barrister wife recently bought a house in North Parramatta and have moved their three children there. Charlton says they will stay, even if he loses on May 21.

“I think people want to hear what you’re going to do, what your plans are, how hard you’re going to work, and see what you can deliver,” the 43-year-old says.

Charlton’s diligence is evident – ​​since his preselection, he has door-knocked more than 200 houses a day and is at Parramatta train station every morning handing out leaflets.

the Australian Financial Review‘s John Kehoe has written that “Charlton’s experience suggests he has the potential to be a modern Hawke-Keating reformer”.

But does he have the people skills to win over voters on the ground? Does he find it easy to talk to members of the public?

“Yeah I do,” he says. “It gives me a lot of energy.”

But the former advisor to Kevin Rudd is most passionate when speaking about the economic potential of the electorate.

“The future of Parramatta is the future of Australia,” he says. “There is huge potential to make Parramatta a global city.”

Kovacic, who has a blended family of five children, is an experienced Liberal party volunteer and active branch member.

Her parents migrated to Australia from the former Yugoslavia in the 1960s. She did not speak English fluently when she started school.

“I love the community. I love people,” she says when she meets the herald at the Lil Miss Collins cafe in Parramatta.

The 52-year-old discusses the “fire in her belly” she has over the community work she does for the elderly, children’s homework groups and migrant groups.

“There is desire at grassroots to get stuff done, and there is desire at government level to do the right thing, but somehow there is this disconnect between the things we need and the things that are delivered,” she says.

Her family background – her father was a refugee from communism – has strongly influenced her belief in “small-footprint government” and Australia as “a land of opportunity”.

Liberal candidate for Parramatta Maria Kovacic at Parramatta CBD.

Liberal candidate for Parramatta Maria Kovacic at Parramatta CBD.Credit:James Alcock

Kovacic says she is a “strong believer in more women at levels of leadership and politics is one of the most important ones”.

“I think politics for any woman is harder. We are held to higher standards,” she says.

“But if we don’t do it, we won’t change it.”

Kovacic is warm, competent and motivated, exactly the kind of woman Morrison says he wants for his party.

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Liberal Party elders have expressed frustration she was preselected so late, and say the Parramatta campaign effort took a few weeks to crank up.

“The public don’t have enough time to get to know either of them [Kovacic or Charlton] – they will vote with whoever they usually vote with, or on the Prime Minister,” said one Liberal source.

“It’s better to be on the Labor side.”

Says Kovacic: “What Parramatta needs is someone to rattle the cage a bit, to say this is how fantastic we are, this is where we are heading.

“Someone to notice us.”

Additional reporting by Natassia Chrysanthos

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