The Liberal Party has at last preselected their candidate for the Wentworth by-election to be held on Saturday 20th October triggered by former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s resignation from parliament. Dave Sharma Australia’s former Ambassador to Israel emerged victorious from a field of 8 candidates at the local Wentworth FEC meeting Thursday night after 201 branch members participated in 6 rounds of voting.
Sharma was seen as the front runner after the other high profile potential candidates Christine Forster sister of Tony Abbott and Andrew Bragg former interim Liberal Federal Director pulled out of the race. Sharma also had the endorsement of Malcolm Turnbull and another former Liberal Prime Minister in John Howard.
There was a big push for the Liberals to preselect a woman for the seat as media commentary since the leadership spills has focused on the Liberals lack of female representation. Scott Morrison was reported to have a favoured a female candidate but today he claimed it was fake news and wanted the best candidate selected.
Sharma as the endorsed Liberal candidate now must win the seat which will prove a challenge for the Liberals to retain. Even though the Liberals have a 17.7% margin and never lost the seat much of that was built up over the time Malcolm Turnbull was the local MP whose left liberal views were popular with the affluent inner Sydney constituents of the seat.
Labor is contesting the by-election with its already endorsed Wentworth candidate for the next election Tim Murray running. It is still being speculated that former Australian Medical Association Chief and City of Sydney Councillor Dr Kerryn Phelps will run for the seat as a high profile Independent who would be the main threat to Sharma’s campaign.
The self-described Muppet show in Canberra is not helping the Liberal campaign with leaks from the Turnbull Cabinet which included that Morrison abused the Tasmanian Treasurer over the state’s GST share. There is still the alleged bullying of female MPs being discussed in the media and pressure on the Liberal Party to adopt quotas for women.
Both Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop have called for Peter Dutton to be refereed to the High Court over his wife’s interest in a childcare business which receives federal government subsides for the court to rule if he is eligible to sit in Federal Parliament. Dutton has also been in a war of words with his former Border Force Chief Roman Quaedvlieg who has claimed Dutton has a personal connection in one of his au pair Ministerial interventions.
Now that the Liberal candidate has been selected with the support of three Liberal Prime Ministers including the current one the party will now be hoping to focus its campaign message on local issues and to sweep its Canberra issues aside. Sharma’s only hindrance is that he lives 24km outside of the electorate. It is unknown whether Malcolm Turnbull will return from New York to campaign for Liberals in Wentworth although his son Alex is campaigning for the Labor candidate.
Scott Morrison today was eager to play down the party’s expectations in Wentworth after they were raised too high in the Longman and Braddon by-elections, although if they blow 17.7% margin it would significantly damage Morrison’s Prime Ministership and also see the government lose its one seat majority.
Couple this with if Peter Dutton is sent to and found to be ineligible by the High Court then a federal election may have to be called which the Coalition is all but certain to lose. The latest Newspoll still has the Coalition trailing in a landslide two party preferred 44% to 56% but Morrison is now preferred Prime Minister.
The Wentworth Whirlwind will continue the Muppet show for the foreseeable future, and if the Liberal lose, and the Muppet characters in the government continue with their current behaviour the show will go on.