Independent candidate Dr Kerryn Phelps wins the crucial Wentworth seat over Liberal candidate Dave Sharma, a seat held by former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for 14 years.
A safe Liberal seat since 1944 and comfortably held by a margin of almost 18 percent, the unprecedented voter swing of more than 20 percent against Liberal candidate David Sharma is being touted as the biggest in Australia’s political history, breaking all federal byelection records. Phelps’ victory was helped by preferences from Labor and minority parties who strongly urged their members to vote for the high-profile doctor and politician.
Phelps’ win also pushes the Liberals into minority government. With a crossbench of six members in the House of Representatives, and Labor holding 69 seats to the coalition’s 75 (one short of a majority) her victory means that the Liberals will now need the support of one of the six crossbenchers to pass its legislation.
The Wentworth electorate is home to large numbers of well-educated voters suburbs like Bondi, Paddington, Double Bay and Vaucluse, and the huge upset makes it clear that Liberal voters were punishing the government for ignoring climate change concerns and its political party in-fighting which prompted the Liberal leadership spill. The spill ousted Wentworth’s much loved parliamentary member Malcolm Turnbull from the top job as PM, replacing him with Scott Morrison, a coal-carrying climate change sceptic.
To an ecstatic crowd at North Bondi Surf Lifesaving Club, Dr Phelps delivered her victory speech:
“I said that if we won the seat of Wentworth we would make history. And my friends, we have made history tonight. More than anything, this is a great moment for Australian democracy. This win tonight should signal a return of decency, integrity and humanity to the Australian government. And let’s hope for a bit of common sense on climate action.”
In her speech, Phelps also addressed “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.”
Dr Phelps is no stranger to historic wins. She was the first woman and first LGBT person ever to be elected president of the Australian Medical Association.
As a highly respected doctor serving the Wentworth community for almost 20 years, and her roles as City of Sydney Councillor and Former Deputy Lord Mayor, Phelps’ developed a deep understanding of Wentworth constituents and understood that they wanted climate action. In response to their concerns, Dr Phelps released an ambitious climate plan ahead of the Wentworth byelection which helped her secure early support.
Her six-point climate plan includes:
- a transition to 100% clean and renewable energy with a target of 50% by 2030
- ban political donations by fossil fuel companies and establish a register to force all Senators and Members to disclose meetings with fossil fuel companies and their lobbyists.
- restore a credible scientific based Climate Change Authority
- no approvals to build new coal-fired power plants
- stop government subsidies of new fossil fuel developments, including the proposed Adani coal mine
- meet Australia’s climate change commitments to the Paris Agreement
With severe droughts facing Australian farmers in NSW and QLD, record-breaking storms destroying homes and decimating coastlines in the United States and other parts of the world, and the recently released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report forewarning catastrophes if global warming isn’t limited to 1.5-degree Celsius, it’s clear that Phelps’ climate action plan and the Liberal’s dismissal of climate facts was a key contributing factor to their historic loss in Wentworth.
Her win also sends a clear message to Prime Minister Scott Morrison; that climate change could very well be a deciding factor in next year’s federal election.
Leaving the Invictus Games to appear at the Liberal gathering in Double Bay after the votes were counted, Morrison delivered his own speech. “Today’s a tough day, but the great days are coming,” he declared. “The result today is on us the Liberals, not on David Sharma.”
He also reiterated his party’s stance on issues such as welfare and job creating: “We believe that the best form of welfare is a job. We believe that it’s every Australians duty to make a contribution and not take a contribution.
“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… we listen, learn and accept the blows.”
The Morrison government and its Liberal Party hold conservative views; some of its members in the far-right faction including former PM Tony Abbott were instrumental in getting rid of centre-leaning Malcolm Turnbull.
Phelps, however, holds progressive views. Aside from her plans to protect the environment and fast-track clean energy investment, she is also committed to improving Medicare and Australia’s health services, pushing for humane treatment of asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island, encouraging entrepreneurship and business investment, fighting for social justice and inclusion and promoting a secular government.
In my professional life, I have always taken a common sense approach to solving even the most complex problems… And I promise to behave like I have always done, with decency and respect for the people I represent.” – Dr Kerryn Phelps website, October 2018.
To learn more about Dr Kerryn Phelps, click here.
Title image credit: Dr Kerryn Phelps.