The Morrison Government has lost the eastern Sydney seat of Wentworth – an electorate that has been held by the Liberals virtually since the Second World War – meaning it has also lost its majority in the House of Representatives.
In a stunning result, a short time ago ABC election analyst Antony Green declared Dr Kerryn Phelps – a high-profile Independent and the former head of the Australian Medical Association – the victor in the by-election.
With about almost 90 per cent of the vote counted, Phelps was predicted to secure 54 per cent of the two-party preferred vote, over the Liberals’ Dave Sharma.
Sharma has so far polled about 39 per cent of the primary vote, not enough to hold Phelps off once the count moves to preferences.
He went into the contest with a huge 17 per cent margin.
Significantly, early booths reported by the AEC were Vaucluse and East Double Bay – both showed massive swings against the Liberals, averaging around 25 per cent. Both booths are traditionally the heartland of the Liberal Party vote.
Virtually all of those votes appear to have gone directly to Ms Phelps.
The Greens and Labor both suffered significant swings against their primary vote – 6.2 per cent and 7.8 percent. Combined, that’s a 14 per cent swing against them, and when you add in the 21.66 per cent swing against the Liberals, it accounts pretty neatly for Phelps’ vote (33.09 per cent of first preferences).
The Liberals’ ham-fisted campaigning in the weeks leading up to the poll clearly didn’t help. The ill-conceived announcement that the Government may move Australia’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – an attempt to win over the 12.5 per cent of Jewish voters in the electorate – appears to have backfired.
The timing of a major international climate change report – which the government summarily dismissed – also appears to have seriously undermined the Liberal vote, with a Greenpeace sponsored ReachTel poll suggesting that tackling climate change was the top priority for 40 per cent of voters in Wentworth.
Just days out from the by-election, news broke that the Liberals’ coalition partners were considering a change of leader – Barnaby Joyce was in the background, agitating to get his old job back from Michael McCormack. And a week ago, amid a stuff-up from within Finance Minister Matthias Cormann’s office, Liberal Senators found themselves accidentally supporting a Senate motion from One National Senator that it’s ‘Ok to be white’.
But clearly, the major issue that weighed on the minds of Wentworth voters was the dumping of their local member, Malcom Turnbull as Prime Minister, and a perceived capturing of the Liberal Party by extremists, lead by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Tomorrow, eyes will turn to that man, and his role in the instability that has all but crippled the Australian government.
Abbott has already won pre-selection for the seat of Warringah, but there are growing moves within the Liberal Party to move him on. There will also likely be recriminations against the extreme right of the party, led by figures like Abbott, Peter Dutton, Eric Abetz, Kevin Andrews, Zed Seselja and Alex Hawke.
The win means that the Morrison Government must now rely on crossbench MPs to retain power, and guarantee the supply of parliamentary support, and cash.
Wentworth has been in Liberal hands almost exclusively since 1944. It was held briefly in the early 2000s by Peter King, a dis-endorsed Liberal. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull held it since 2004, only to leave politics entirely two months ago after the Liberal spill led by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
In recent times, Wentworth came closest to falling to Labor in 2007, when former Waverley Mayor George Newhouse -a prominent human rights lawyer – cut Turnbull to a single figure margin.
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