SCOTT Morrison has lost his one-seat majority following a historic by-election defeat in the Sydney seat of Wentworth, plunging Australia into a hung Parliament.
More than 100,000 voters in Sydney’s inner-east picked Independent candidate Kerryn Phelps, the former boss of the Australian Medical Association, to replace Malcolm Turnbull in today’s by-election.
The Prime Minister addressed the Liberal Party’s function in Double Bay about 8.15pm promising to “listen and learn” from the result.
“When I decided to step up, when the party called on me … I knew there would be tough days and there would be great days, today’s a tough day but the great days are coming,” Mr Morrison said.
He said the Liberal Party had paid the price for rolling Malcolm Turnbull and the result was “not unexpected”.
“We will take this all the way to the next election.”
Voters delivered a brutal verdict to the Coalition following weeks of chaos in Canberra. The Liberals are expected to suffer a final swing against them of more than 20 per cent — the largest swing against any Government in Australian political history.
Until last night the average two-party-preferred swing against a government at a by-election was about 4 per cent with the largest backlash occurring in 1995 with a swing of 16.2 per cent against the Keating government in the Canberra by-election.
With six months until the next election, the result sent shockwaves through the Liberal Party with one senior Government Ministers describing the result as a “bloodbath”.
Kerryn Phelps’s camp erupted when they heard the result had been declared just after 7pm with the newly-minted MP expected to arrive at the North Bondi Surf Lifesaving Club about 8.15pm.
Supporter Rosemary Webster said Dr Phelps has been a breath of fresh air.
“The Liberal Party have no common purpose now, but with Kerryn you know about everything that she stands for,” Ms Webster said.
Earlier in the day, Liberal candidate Dave Sharma hit the hustings in Rose Bay where he faced rowdy protesters demanding stronger action on climate change. The former Israeli ambassador, whose campaign was dogged by chaos in Canberra, conceded he faced an uphill battle to hold Wentworth polling predicting independent Kerryn Phelps would snatch the affluent Sydney seat.
In a sign of defeat, only a handful of Government MPs campaigned at polling booths, including Education Minister Dan Tehan, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Social Services Minister Paul Fletcher, despite the risk to the Government’s majority.
In the past fortnight the Morrison Government was gripped by drama after its senators accidentally voted in favour of Pauline Hanson’s controversial “It’s OK to be white” motion. The Government also faced a backlash from key trading partners over the possible relocation of Australia’s Israeli embassy to Jerusalem, which was meant to shore up the Liberal vote in Wentworth.
Mr Sharma talked down the impact of the chaos in Canberra claiming voters were only focused on “issues that really matter to them and their lives.”
“You run a campaign in the circumstances you got”, he said.
There are fears the dramatic swing against the Government could further fuel instability within the National Party amid simmering tensions about the performance of Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack.
Disgruntled Nationals MPs warned that the massive swing against the Coalition could be a trigger for a leadership change within the junior Coalition partner.
“We have been waiting with bated breath for the result in Wentworth. A catastrophic loss could trigger further tensions because it will be seen as a failure of the Coalition’s leadership team,” one Nationals MP warned.
Supporters of Mr McCormack’s main leadership rival Barnaby Joyce said the disgraced Nationals Leader was re-elected in 2018 with the largest primary swing to a government in a by-election since federation. But Queensland Nationals MP Keith Pitt called for unity.
“No one in their right mind could blame McCormack for a loss of a blue ribbon liberal city seat, surely,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Dr Phelps talked down her chances.
“The voters of Wentworth are saying that they want change,” she said.
“I don’t know if that momentum is enough to get us over the line.”
The Sydney GP also dismissed a warning from the Government that a she would be a destabilising force in a minority government.
“I don’t think anyone can be confident — we don’t really know how this is going to turn out,” Dr. Phelps said.