Chris Atlee will be looking to overturn 44 years of Labor dominance at the May 18 federal election, as he contests the seat of Cunningham as the Liberal candidate. Cunningham is among the safest Labor seats in the country, currently held by Sharon Bird on a 13.3% margin.
However, Mr Atlee points to changing demographics within the region as a catalyst for eroding that dominance.
“It’s not as safe for Labor as it once was. There’s more units and apartments sold in the Wollongong CBD than any other city in New South Wales,” he said.
Mr Atlee said population movement from the Sutherland Shire, containing traditionally Liberal seats, to the Illawarra could see the political makeup of the region shift.
Mr Atlee has been active at pre-poll booths and has championed infrastructure spending, including the recently announced $128 million in funding for Shellharbour Hospital.
The Coalition has also promised to create 1.25 million jobs over the next five years, and Mr Atlee said this would help combat youth unemployment in the region.
Mr Atlee, who owns the Comic Cafe in Wollongong, said his extensive community engagement as a local business owner gives him a nuanced understanding of local issues.
“I know what its like to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning and start doing paperwork and finish at 12 o’clock. I’ve been dealing with people in the region for a long time so I’ve got the business background, from my own businesses,” he said.
“I’ve also up until recently, been president of the Corrimal Chamber of Commerce.”
Mr Atlee ran for the Palmer United Party in Cunningham at the 2013 election. However, Mr Atlee said the Liberal Party best aligns with his centre-right values.
“In hindsight, Clive sold us a great story, but it was all rubbish,” Mr Atlee said.