Malcolm Turnbull has crossed paths on the election hustings with the Liberal candidate for his former Sydney seat of Wentworth, Dave Sharma, in what appears to have been a friendly encounter.
Mr Turnbull’s failure to give anything more than token support for Mr Sharma when he first ran unsuccessfully for the seat at a by-election in October was a sore point for the Liberals, who believed an endorsement could have defused some lingering resentment about how the popular local member had been dumped as prime minister by his party.
Mr Sharma tweeted a photo of the pair together today at the Rose Bay ferry terminal in the heart of Wentworth, where he is running a second time as the endorsed Liberal candidate against independent Kerryn Phelps, who won the seat following Mr Turnbull’s sudden exit.
“Amazing who you see at a commuter stop! Great to run into an old friend @TurnbullMalcolm down at the #RoseBay wharf this morning,” Mr Sharma tweeted.
It is unclear at this stage whether Mr Turnbull intends to participate in the Sharma campaign beyond today’s coincidental meeting.
Spending most of the October by-election campaign period in New York with his wife Lucy, the former prime minister used his physical absence in part to justify the lack of a more overt backing for Mr Sharma. He also said he was not giving commentary anymore because he was “retired” from politics.
But the former Liberal prime minister was vocal during his New York absence at one semipublic event, critical of some previous prime ministers for acting like “ghosts”.
Since then he has made comments unhelpful to the Morrison government about renewable energy policy.
The day before Scott Morrison called the federal election this week, Mr Turnbull was openly critical of his failed former leadership rival, Peter Dutton, for agreeing to lunch with controversial Chinese businessman Huang Xiangmo when he was lobbying for Australian citizenship.
In the final fortnight of the Wentworth by-election campaign, the Liberal organisation was desperate for at least a written endorsement or letter from Mr Turnbull giving full-throated support for Mr Sharma when polls suggested that Ms Phleps was likely to win the previously safe seat in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.
When Mr Turnbull did not provide the endorsement as requested, the Liberals asked John Howard to accompany Mr Sharma on the hustings and he obliged.
The Liberals have some hopes of regaining Wentworth in May because Ms Phelps won the seat in October by barely one percentage point after voter preferences were distributed, and it is believed that some local ill-feeling about Mr Turnbull’s treatment has subsided.
Liberal insiders agree however that a more active role by Mr Turnbull could help Mr Sharma’s second run given Mr Turnbull remains a popular local figure in Wentworth, and he easily won the seat previously.
Although Mr Turnbull was at the Rose Bay ferry terminal today, possibly travelling to his office in the city, he lives closer to the city at Point Piper.
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