Modern Australian

Liberals trounced in huge Wentworth swing, bringing a hung parliament

  • Written by Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

The Morrison government has been thrown into a parliamentary minority after a crushing defeat in the traditional Liberal seat of Wentworth, which has been captured by high profile independent Kerryn Phelps.

The anti-government swing in Malcolm Turnbull’s former seat of about 20% is one of the biggest for a federal byelection in modern history.

As of late Saturday night, Phelps had achieved a 52-48% two-candidate lead over the Liberals Dave Sharma. Sharma had about 42% of the primary vote; Phelps has polled about 30%.

Labor, which ran dead in the campaign to give the maximum chance of Phelps defeating the Liberals, was on 11%, down nearly 7 percentage points.

Turnbull had a 17.7% margin at the 2016 election, with 62% of the primary vote.

The byelection fiasco will re-open fractures in the government and threatens a damaging burst of infighting between Liberal conservatives and moderates.

It is not clear how it will affect the instability wracking the Nationals, where there is a push on from Barnaby Joyce to try to regain the leadership.

The government is not in danger of falling on the floor of the House because it has enough crossbench support on the matter of confidence. But to pass legislation, it will need the support of one of the now six crossbenchers.

The thumping in Wentworth, although there were special circumstances and it is not a typical seat, will be devastating for government morale and is another major fillip for Labor.

The tearing down of Turnbull in a coup initiated by the conservatives and their candidate Petter Dutton was clearly the key factor in the huge backlash. But also climate change – where the conservatives have pushed for a weakening of policy – was a major issue in the campaign, and the treatment of refugees was also prominent.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s frantic efforts to shore up the vote, including by a major change of the government’s Middle East policy in the campaign’s final week, failed to have an impact.

Phelps told a jubilant election party: “We have made history tonight. This is a great moment for Australian democracy.”

She sent a message to “any young people, any women, any aspiring Independents out there – if you are thinking of running for parliament or running for public office: yes, it can be tough, yes, the road can be hard, but it is so worthwhile that we have the right people stepping up to represent Australia.”

She told the ABC: “People have been concerned about the direction of government for a very long time and we’ve seen a lack of decency, a lack of integrity and we have to look at what the House of Representatives is about. It is about representing the people and the people have spoken loud and clear.”

Morrison left the Invictus Games to appear at the Liberal gathering. “I know this is a tough day, but leadership requires you to turn up on the tough days and the good days, and that’s what you will always get from me as the leader of the Liberal party.”

Morrison admitted: “The Liberal party has paid a big price tonight for the events of several months ago”.

“What’s happened here in Wentworth is not unexpected. Liberals are angry,” he said.

“Tonight is a night when we listen, learn and accept the blows.

In remarks also aimed at rallying his humiliated party, Morrison declared "the bell hasn’t rung” on the bigger fight for the next election.

He defaulted to his stump speech, saying “we believe in a fair go for those who have a go. …we believe it is every Australian’s duty to make a contribution and not take a contribution….My message to Bill Shorten is you will never lead a country that you want to divide.”

Morrison has to quickly recalibrate his pre-election message about the threat of instability if the seat were lost. This was a point he stressed at the end of the campaign, warning: “If an independent is elected at the Wentworth by-election, that will throw us into a hung Parliament and a lot of uncertainty, at a time when the country doesn’t need it.”

Morrison stressed the generally-acknowledged point that Sharma was a quality candidate. “The result today is on us, the Liberals, not on Dave Sharma. When you attract the crystal quality of the man like Dave Sharma, you know your party is heading in the right direction.”

In a gracious speech paying tribute to Phelps and other candidates, Sharma admitted the campaign had been “a little bruising”, and said “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to earn the trust of the voters of Wentworth tonight”.

While some Liberals want Sharma to contest Wentworth at the election, it will be hard to dislodge Phelps, and there will also be pressure to keep him for a more winnable seat.

Former minister Craig Laundy, a strong Turnbull supporter, appearing on Sky, lashed out at right wing commentators, urging colleagues who listened to them to realise they “do not shift votes”.

NSW Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman, who was on the ABC panel, said the result was “not a distinctly Wentworth message” and the Liberals had to heed the lesson. Zimmerman said Liberal research showed that the two biggest things working against the Liberals were the removal of Turnbull as prime minister and concern about climate change.

“I think what we’re seeing tonight is a reflection of the anger in the broader community, but particularly in his own seat … on what happened on that mad week two months ago,” Zimmerman said.

NSW Labor MP Linda Burney said Morrison should consider calling an election.

Turnbull’s son Alex, who urged a vote against the Liberals, tweeted: “Incredible result and proud of the people of Wentworth. A hearty congratulations to @drkerrynphelps who fought a great campaign. A great day for Australian democracy”.

The vote has raised speculation that Tony Abbott could face a threat at the election from an independent in his seat Warringah.

There had been speculation the result could be close, but it was obvious from nearly the start of counting - ABC analyst Antony Green called the result at 7:18pm.

There were 16 candidates in the field.

*This story has been corrected to say one of the biggest swings rather than a record swing.

Authors: Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

Read more http://theconversation.com/liberals-trounced-in-huge-wentworth-swing-bringing-a-hung-parliament-105351

NEWS

Lies, obfuscation and fake news make for a dispiriting – and dangerous – election campaign

The integrity of Australia's election process is under unprecedented pressure during this election.Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-NDThe integrity of Australia’s electoral processes is under unprecedented challenge in this federal election.The...

What's the school cleaner's name? How kids, not just cleaners, are paying the price of outsourcing

In Victoria in 1992, every government-employed school cleaner was terminated overnight.from shutterstock.comThis is an edited extract from The New Disruptors, the 64th edition of Griffith Review. It is a little...

how Western attitudes towards Islam have changed

Muslim clerics and members of the Pakistani Christian minority light candles to commemorate the victims of this week's bomb blasts in Sri Lanka. Islamic State has claimed responsibility for...

Vital signs. Zero inflation means the Reserve Bank should cut rates as soon as it can, on Tuesday week

The last time inflation was zero the Reserve Bank cut rates twice. It'll get the chance on May 7.ShutterstockWhat do US pizza executive Herman Cain, US conservative commentator Stephen Moore...

Bizarrely distributed and verging on extinction, this 'mystic' tree went unidentified for 17 years

Flowers of the mystical Hildegardia australiensis. I.D. Cowie, NT Herbarium.Author provided (No reuse)Sign up to the Beating Around the Bush newsletter here, and suggest a plant we should cover at...

Why the idea of alien life now seems inevitable and possibly imminent

Relative sizes of planets that are in a zone potentially compatible with life: Kepler-22b, Kepler-69c, Kepler-62e, Kepler-62f and Earth (named left to right; except for Earth, these are artists' renditions).NASA...

Think you're allergic to penicillin? There's a good chance you're wrong

A rash people assume is a reaction to penicillin may not be related to the drug at all.From shutterstock.comAre you allergic to penicillin? Perhaps you have a friend or relative...

'you’re always commenting on power'

Podcasters can introduce new voices to the conversations about the cities we live in.Salim October/ShutterstockMore and more podcasts about cities are being produced by journalists and academics. They’re being recorded...

you have the chance to stop fuelling devastation in the Amazon

Deforestation in the Amazon has accelerated since Brazilian president Bolsonaro scrapped environmental laws.ShutterstockThe effects of European consumption are being felt in Brazil, driving disastrous deforestation and violence. But the destruction...

All is forgiven in the Liberal embrace of Palmer

This election is acquiring quite a few back-to-the-future touches.There’s John Howard, in robust campaign mode. One of those he’s spruiking for is the embattled Tony Abbott, with a letter to...

Bat and bird poo can tell you a lot about ancient landscapes in Southeast Asia

A bat in a cave among the poo.Christopher Wurster, Author providedThe islands of Sumatra, Borneo and Java were once part of a much larger landmass connected to Asia called Sundaland...

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the Sri Lanka terror attack. Here's what that means

In the wake of any tragedy, it should be enough to grieve and stand in solidarity with those who mourn. With a massive toll – at least 359 dead and...

Popular articles from Modern Australian

What to Do When Traveling From Australia to USAWhat we should know about ‘nitric oxide’ and why we need more of itDownsizing: What Is Too Small?5 unique ways to extract toxins from your bodyThe Art Of Bell-RingingModern Snapback Hats trending in Australia6 Mistakes to Avoid When Moving Overseas5 Tips Designed to Help Accentuate Your Hourglass FigureRoyal Edinburgh Military TattooThe inaugural Bondi Ocean Lovers FestivalHow to Plan a Remodeling at Home: Tips and TricksAchieving Facial Symmetry with RhinoplastyHow to Choose the Best Colors for Your BedroomFind Here the 3 Best Online Pokies in AustraliaHair Loss and Transplant Solutions