Liberal candidate Dave Sharma declares victory in Wentworth
Independent MP Kerryn Phelps has lashed out at a vile email campaign against her as she conceded defeat in a key Sydney seat.
Independent MP Kerryn Phelps has lashed out over vile emails that plagued her campaign as she conceded defeat to the Liberals in a key Sydney seat.
Speaking at a press conference this afternoon, she said the battle for the high-profile Sydney seat of Wentworth, once a Liberal stronghold held by former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, was too close to call on Saturday night.
However, she said the result is now “clear” and she has lost her seat.
Dave Sharma – who lost the by-election in October – has claimed the seat almost 24 hours after Scott Morrison declared victory for the coalition in the 2019 federal election.
Mr Sharma has 51.16 per cent of the vote while Dr Phelps has 48.84 per cent after preferences on Sunday evening.
Two-Party Preferred Margin: 1.67%
First Preference Votes
More than 75 per cent of all ballots have been counted and postal votes and prepoll votes will be required to reveal the winner of the knife-edge contest.
The Liberal stronghold swung to Dr Phelps — a former head of the Australian Medical Association — in the October by-election that followed the ousting of Mr Turnbull in 2018.
Mr Sharma, the former ambassador to Israel, went into the federal election confident voter anger over the ousting had subsided in the months since.
Dr Phelps had campaigned on climate change platform and vowed to stop the Adani coal mine as well as other new coal projects.
As she addressed reporters this afternoon, she said thanked her wife and children for their “unwavering support” — and slammed a vile email campaign against her.
“They were dragged into this campaign via a series of emails that are under police investigation and I have to say at this moment there is no place for this kind of behaviour in Australian politics,” she said.
She also said that the ousting of Mr Turnbull had “conflicted” voters in Wentworth.
“There were people who were appreciative of the work that I had done, but they didn’t want a Labor government in this area,” she said.
“So there was this conflict. There were people who are still upset about Malcolm Turnbull, but others who felt more strongly that they preferred a Liberal government.”
She congratulated Mr Sharma for his win, but also warned that the “sensible centre” and crossbenchers are on the rise as she praised her team.
“They (Ms Phelps’ team) believe that we could do politics differently,” she said. “They believed that there was a sensible centre in Australian politics. That it wasn’t always about right and left that it was about what is right and wrong.
“I have to say that there may well be a time in the future where the Australian public misses the constructive input of the crossbench in this last Parliament because that constructive crossbench can actually hold government to account and I do congratulate the crossbenches who were elected into this Parliament because they will continue to have a very important role going forward.”
The crucial seat had been held by the Liberals for decades before Mr Turnbull quit parliament and Dr Phelps won by a tiny 1.6 per cent margin at the ensuing by-election in October.
Mr Turnbull’s shadow still looms over Wentworth. Some Liberals, including Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, publicly blamed him for the party’s by-election defeat there, claiming he should have done more to help Mr Sharma’s campaign.
Ultimately, Dr Phelps didn’t win by much.
Dr Phelps appeared to be confident going into Saturday’s vote, writing on Twitter that she has felt a momentum shift in Wentworth over the past few days, like she felt when she was victorious in the last vote.
The tightly-contested campaign has turned ugly at points, with Dr Phelps being targeted with offensive emails.
The emails — falsely claiming she is ineligible to stand at the federal election because she is an Israeli citizen — were sent to an unknown number of voters earlier this month and contained incorrect voting information and several anti-Semitic remarks.
News.com.au has seen one of the email but chosen not to publish its contents. Dr Phelps confirmed she had referred the matter to the Australian Federal Police.
“It’s homophobic, anti-Semitic, racist and just generally pretty disgusting,” she said.
The independent was also targeted with obscene emails claiming she had AIDS during last year’s by-election.
Dr Phelps said the emails sent earlier this month were the fifth time she had been targeted in a vicious campaign, but she said the latest attacks amounted to electoral interference.
She also claims 80 per cent of her election signs were torn down from poles across Wentworth.
“It’s hundreds of them,” she said.
“There’s a systematic, concerted plan to remove opponent posters. We would never do such a thing. It tends to come down to one party’s posters remaining up, or going up in the spot that’s suddenly vacant.”
However, Mr Sharma denied his team had any part in the emails of removal of signs — adding that he believed any instances of tampering with signs was down to “individuals with a grievance”.
“I think it’s the same with these hate emails going around,” Mr Sharma said.
“They feel kind of like white nationalist dog whistling attacking all sorts of minorities. I don’t know who’s responsible for them. I’ve seen a few. They’re just literate. It’s ridiculous, paranoid assertions.”