Voters in Malcolm Turnbull’s old seat of Wentworth have passed a brutal judgement on the Liberal Party by electing independent Kerryn Phelps to replace the former prime minister, in an historic result in the blue-ribbon seat that leaves the government dealing with a hung parliament.
Monster swings approaching 30% were seen in some booths in the electorate, which is the wealthiest in the country and has been held exclusively by the Liberal Party in the post-war era.
It is a devastating result for the Liberals in the seat vacated by the former prime minister, which he held by a margin of over 17 per cent. With a federal election expected next year, the Coalition cannot afford to lose a single seat to Labor if it wants to stay in office, and national polls have it trailing by around six points on a two-party-preferred basis.
A late surge in postal vote support was a significant help to Liberal candidate Dave Sharma’s final result. This morning, the two-party preferred count stood at 52-48 to Phelps. Sharma secured 42 per cent of the primary vote to Phelps’ 30, with overwhelming preference flows for Phelps helping her secure the win.
Phelps, who could play a critical role in helping the Coalition pass legislation in the House of Representatives, said her win “should signal a return of decency, integrity, and humanity to the Australian government”.
Turnbull’s son, Alex, posted a pointed message of congratulations to Phelps on Twitter, saying it was a “great day for democracy”.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the result showed that Liberals were “angry, and they’ve expressed that”.
“The result today is on us, the Liberals,” Morrison said, “not on Dave Sharma.”
He added: “We will stand up for what we believe until the bell rings, and the bell hasn’t rung, Liberals. The bell hasn’t rung.”
Morrison made the astonishing admission on Friday that knew the party was on the brink of losing the by-election, pleading with voters to support Sharma for the sake of economic stability.
While there is no highly contentious legislation scheduled in the House of Representatives, Morrison will still have to try and manage the hung parliament as he tries to devise a strategy to turn the Coalition’s policy platform around.
But if the result in Wentworth is anything to go by, the country may not be listening.
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