Prime Minister Scott Morrison has crossed the country twice and shaken hands with thousands of people in the final week of campaigning before polling day, but his conspicuous absence from five battleground seats underscores his greatest challenge this election.
From Tasmania to Darwin and Sydney to Perth, Mr Morrison’s trans-continental final week campaign blitz has seen the Prime Minister and travelling press pack fly and bus to 14 electorates in just six days.
He visited every state except South Australia, speaking to retirees, first-home buyers, soccer players and paver manufacturers in marginal electorates the Coalition believes are within its grasp.
But his absence was noted in several key seats where the Coalition arguably faces its biggest threat: Climate 200-backed “teal” independents.
In those seats, the Prime Minister left his MPs to fight their own local battles.
So which seats did Mr Morrison evade on the final week of campaigning and what does that say about his chances on Saturday night?
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg – often touted as a future Liberal leader and even prime minister – has been fighting one of the greatest challenges of his political career in his eastern Melbourne electorate of Kooyong.
A YouGov poll commissioned by The Australian last week predicted Mr Frydenberg would lose his seat to independent Monique Ryan, who led 53-47 on a two-party preferred basis.
Kooyong, once held by Sir Robert Menzies, has never been lost by the Liberals.
But if the polling is anything to go by, Dr Ryan is in a solid position to win today if preferences flow towards her, as expected.
Dr Ryan, a surgeon, is one of the Climate 200-backed “teal independents” who are standing against moderate Liberal MPs in key seats. They are campaigning mostly on climate action and integrity in politics.
Mr Morrison has avoided visiting Kooyong throughout this election campaign, with the Coalition instead parachuting in former prime minister John Howard to do his bidding.
Last week’s YouGov poll predicted a similar Coalition defeat for Mr Frydenberg’s fellow Victorian Liberal Tim Wilson in the neighbouring Melbourne seat of Goldstein.
The assistant energy minister is being challenged by teal independent Zoe Daniel, a former ABC journalist.
Climate 200 polling released this week predicts Ms Daniel could garner around 53 per cent of preferences to get her over the line.
That same poll also showed 54 per cent of respondents had an unfavourable opinion of Mr Morrison.
Mr Wilson has had a rough trot this election campaign, starting when he lost a court bid to have Ms Daniel remove signs that he argued were put up prematurely, and later threatened by Ms Daniel with legal action after he suggested she and her campaign were “anti-Semitic”.
The Coalition’s campaign in the former blue-ribbon Liberal seat of Warringah has received sharp media focus this campaign – albeit for the wrong reasons.
Mr Morrison overruled local branch members to select lawyer Katherine Deves for the seat, but her controversial views on trans women and sport at one point threatened to derail the Coalition’s election message.
The Prime Minister backed Ms Deves, shouting down members of the moderate wing of the Liberal party for her to be jettisoned.
But that support didn’t extend to a physical presence in her electorate.
The north-Sydney seat of Warringah was once held by former prime minister Tony Abbott, before independent Zali Steggall toppled him at the 2019 election.
Mr Morrison was repeatedly asked throughout the six-week election campaign whether he would visit the eastern Sydney seat of Wentworth but never answered the question directly, instead saying that he had been to the electorate to visit his mother.
“I will go where I believe it’s best for our campaign for me to go … you know that we find out where we go each day, just as it works in the Labor campaign,” he said, when asked about his absence from the seat.
Moderate Liberal David Sharma holds Wentworth, the former blue-ribbon seat once held by former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, by a margin of 1.3 per cent.
He is facing off against teal independent Allegra Spender, whose father, John, held the seat of North Sydney from 1980 to 1990, and whose grandfather was a Liberal MP for Warringah.
Mr Sharma is no stranger to independent challenges, having won the seat off former MP Kerryn Phelps at the 2019 election.
Unlike other seats Mr Morrison avoided this campaign, the New South Wales electorate of Reid is not facing a potential independent take-over.
However, it is considered the Coalition’s biggest challenge, with ABC chief election analyst Antony Green describing it as the Liberals’ “hardest to hold”.
The seat is currently held by moderate MP Fiona Martin, who made headlines last week after she appeared to mistake her Labor opponent Sally Sitou for another Asian-Australian.
Reid has one of the highest populations of Asian-Australian voters in the country and is only held by Martin on a 3.2 per cent margin.
Where PM visited in the final week
Brisbane (QLD, marginal LNP, 4.9 per cent)
Blair (QLD, marginal Labor, 1.2 per cent)
Leichhardt (QLD, marginal LNP, 4.2 per cent)
Lingiari (NT, marginal Labor, 5.5 per cent)
Solomon (NT, marginal Labor, 3.1 per cent)
Corangamite (VIC, marginal Labor, 1.1 per cent)
Melbourne (VIC, Greens, 22.6 per cent)
Lyons (TAS, marginal Labor, 5.2 per cent)
Braddon (TAS, marginal LNP, 3.1 per cent)
Werriwa (NSW, marginal Labor, 5.5 per cent)
Swan (WA, marginal LNP, 3.2 per cent)
Pearce (WA, LNP, 5.2 per cent)
Hasluck (WA, marginal LNP, 5.9 per cent)
Cowan (WA, marginal Labor 0.9 per cent)
Mr Morrison spent the entirety of his final day of campaigning in Perth, where the Coalition hopes to retain the marginal Liberal-held seats of Pearce, Hasluck and Swan, as well as capture Labor-held Cowan.
Western Australia is a challenge for the Coalition given the McGowan government’s sweeping victory in March last year and a concerted effort by federal Labor to claw back Swan and Pearce.
The day began with a community breakfast in Swan. Ahead of the event, journalists were briefed that Mr Morrison would meet with “friendly local families” and the description rang true, with the Prime Minister greeted with a round of applause when he arrived.
He then travelled to Pearce to visit a new housing development – the fourth in one week – before travelling to a nearby rugby club, where he cooked sausages for players.
Mr Morrison ended the day with a visit to a Sikh temple where he paid respects and was gifted with a framed certificate of appreciation and a commemorative coin.
The PM will wake up in Melbourne tomorrow to do morning media and polling booth visits before flying to Sydney to vote in Cook.
The final week of Mr Morrison’s campaign has been highly controlled. He has only made public appearances at friendly community events and avoided interactions with the broader general public.
The only time the Prime Minister was met with open criticism was on Sunday outside the Coalition’s campaign launch, where protestors gathered to chant “Morrison out” and waved placards alluding to cost-of-living pressures and stagnant wages growth.
Mr Morrison did not spend any time during the final days of campaigning in electorates where teal independents are challenging moderate Liberal MPs.
He has previously suggested the independent challenges were a sideshow from the real campaign: An effort to secure majority government.
But his absence also underscores a different point, that his personal unpopularity and record on climate and integrity – two key issues on which the independents base their platforms – could be kryptonite for the Coalition’s chance of success.
Mr Morrison’s popularity has been a sore point for the Coalition throughout this campaign.
In recent days, he has tried to reinvent his image by declaring he would move on from being a “bulldozer” and instead become a more consultative and empathetic leader.
It remains to be seen whether this last-ditch personality-shifting bid will make a difference at the polls, or whether it is a case of too little, too late for the PM.