A group of protesters gathered outside Tony Abbott's constituency office on Sydney's north shore. They wore party hats and cut a cake.

It was, the activists explained, an early-retirement gathering for Australia's former prime minister.

He is in danger of losing his supposedly safe seat, partly because of the work of their advocacy group, GetUp!, which is campaigning to turf out several of the ruling Liberal Party's most right-wing members in the general election on May 18.

"Our parties aren't representing us," laments one of its volunteers. "They're representing themselves."

Such complaints are common in Australia, but its political system can shroud them. Compulsory voting forces even the disengaged to turn out on Election Day.

Those who might not otherwise vote tend to back one of the two main parties, the Liberals and Labor. The voting system, which requires Australians to rank candidates, also ends up funneling votes to the big two. As a result, the pair dominate politics — they won all but five of the 150 seats in the lower house at the last election, in 2016 — even though the share of voters who pick them as their first choice is falling.

A decade of political instability has left many voters feeling disillusioned. The prime minister has changed five times in that time (but only once because of an election).

Policymaking has naturally suffered. "We're going backward on too many important issues," one of Abbott's constituents said.

Some lost patience with him in August, when the brigade of staunch conservatives he leads toppled the Liberals' popular leader, Malcolm Turnbull. The prime minister's crime had been to attempt to set legally binding targets to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

As the election nears, both major parties are attempting to win over voters by playing to their strengths. Labor leader Bill Shorten promised to spend an extra $2.8 billion to subsidize child care, while Prime Minister Scott Morrison pledged to freeze refugee intake for the next three years in an attempt to remind voters of his commitment to border security.

While some Labor policies such as tougher action on climate change have resonated with a majority of voters, Morrison has attacked Shorten's push to redistribute wealth. Morrison is vowing to implement a swath of income-tax cuts should his coalition win a third term. Still, he's vulnerable to opposition attacks over stagnant wages and inflation, which could trigger the central bank to cut interest rates to a record low.

But voters are growing weary of the nation's politics. According to one poll, faith in democracy has fallen by more than half over the past decade. Only 41% of voters said they are satisfied with the system.

Many have channeled their disillusionment into activism. More than a million people have joined GetUp!, giving it almost eight times as many members as the two big parties combined. It deploys armies of orange-clad volunteers to staff phones and knock on doors. Its donations have soared by more than a quarter over the past year, furnishing it with a war-chest of almost $9 million. It now has "more capacity than most political parties", said John Hewson, a former Liberal leader who advised it in its early days.

Henny Smith, GetUp!'s elections director, said it is "not interested in who gets elected" as long as the result is "sensible climate policy and a conscionable approach to refugees."

But those goals put it at odds with right-wing politicians such as Abbott and Peter Dutton, the home-affairs minister who spearheaded the coup against Turnbull.

GetUp! is "an extreme left-wing front," said Eric Abetz, a conservative senator. Three investigations by the electoral commission have cleared it of any partisan associations.

Guessing the extent of GetUp!'s influence is tricky, but Abbott might soon get an inkling. Warringah is doggedly conservative, and he has held the seat for a quarter of a century. But an upset would not be unprecedented: when Turnbull resigned last year, an independent, Kerryn Phelps, deprived the Liberals of his seat for the first time in more than a century.

The party's polling suggests that another independent, Zali Steggall, is on course to beat Abbott with a huge swing of 12%. Dutton holds his suburban seat in Brisbane by a far less comfortable margin, partly thanks to GetUp!'s work at the previous election. The group may need to bake more cakes.

Bloomberg News contributed to this report.