Soap-style election battle for Bondi Beach

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SYDNEY, Nov 9 (Reuters) Bondi Beach is a temple of hedonism, a brash suburb of millionaires, models and surfers, and the battle to win voters along Australia's most famous beach at November 24 elections has as much drama as a daytime soap opera.

Contesting Australia's smallest and richest electorate is, of course, the nation's richest politician, as well as a human rights lawyer and his glamorous former girlfriend, who says her campaign is not a vendetta, and a Green candidate who can't win but will probably decide who does.

The seat of Wentworth, with its beaches, views of Sydney harbour, multi-million dollar houses and captains of industry, has been a bastion of conservatism, never flirting with opposition Labor.

But Wentworth is now one of the seats Prime Minister John Howard's conservative government is battling to retain to stave off a predicted electoral drubbing.

The seat has become marginal due to boundary changes that now stretch it from Bondi to Sydney's red-light district of Kings Cross and the gay heart of Oxford Street.

Candidates must not only woo traditional conservative residents, but nouveau rich beachsiders and the country's largest gay community. And the issues are just as diverse -- from rising interest rates and tax cuts, the Kyoto Protocol and a pulp mill on a distant island, to homosexual rights.

Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a former merchant banker, is the richest man in the national parliament and is reportedly spending close to Australia 1 million dollar (US dollar 926,000) on his re-election campaign.

Turnbull is a slick political performer, but Howard's refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol on reducing greenhouse gasses has made the environment a major issue in this urban seat and not helped his campaign.Many new inner city voters are long-time Green party supporters and Turnbull's recent approval of a pulp mill on the island state of Tasmania has also damaged him.

As a result the Green party says it may double its vote, winning 20 per cent of ballots, and all these it will give to the opposition Labor party under Australia's election system.

To convince voters that Turnbull, regarded as a future prime minister, should be re-elected, his high profile wife sent a letter to voters telling them of ''the man I know and love''.

''Malcolm did not grow up in a privileged environment as many people believe,'' wrote Lucy Turnbull, telling voters that the man who went to one of Australia's most prestigious boarding schools was a self-made millionaire and is often misunderstood.

EX-LOVER'S CAMPAIGN The opposition Labor candidate George Newhouse does not enjoy such loyalty from a partner. His ex-girlfriend decided, just after they split, to contest the seat, but denied it was to spoil his chances.

''There's no vendetta. This is not about George. This is only about the Liberal and the Labor parties' policies on the pulp mill,'' says Danielle Ecuyer. Her full page ad in the local newspaper declares: ''You Can Pulp Him'', with a photo of Turnbull.

The blonde, single mother and former merchant banker says she is standing to give people a voice, quoting on her Web site Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata's words: ''Better to die on one's feet than to live on one's knees''.

In a typical Bondi media event, Ecuyer was carried across the sand on a surfboard today by bare-chested male beekcakes. As an independent she has no chance of winning the seat, but her votes may just decide whether Turnbull or her ex does.

Newhouse is a softy spoken human rights lawyer and former local mayor. He has a real chance of winning the seat with a voter swing of only 2.5 per cent.

His Jewish family is well-known in Wentworth, Australia's largest Jewish electorate, and he has been pressing the flesh late into the night along Oxford Street, promising to remove 58 laws that discriminate against gays.

Turnbull has promised to remove one of the laws, prompting gay ridicule. ''We're gay, not intellectually challenged,'' wrote Max Fischer in a newspaper today. If Turnbull expects gays and lesbians to vote for him, Fischer said: ''Hardly, sunshine''.

REUTERS RJ BD1200

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