Kerryn Phelps to lose Wentworth to Dave Sharma, say Liberals


Earlier in the evening he noted he had been reassured by how well he had been received at voting booths.

“There was much less anger, much less hostility, than there was last year,” he said at the event Easts Rugby Club in Rose Bay.

Just seven months earlier he had been defeated by independent Kerryn Phelps.

Dr Phelps and her supporters gathered at the North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club.

As the count continued through the night, Mr Sharma’s tight lead remained consistent. Even more tellingly, none of the booths in the electorate registered a swing against him.

By some estimates up to 40 per cent of the electorate’s voters cast their ballot via pre-poll or postal votes, delaying the count.

The politics of Wentworth have been shaken by internal Liberal Party brawling. Malcolm Turnbull seized the party’s endorsement for the seat from Peter King in a bitter preselection battle in 2003, only to be turfed out in last year’s insurrection.

Mr Turnbull’s removal prompted many Liberals to punish the party by turning to Dr Phelps, who had presented herself as a viable conservative alternative to Mr Sharma. She secured a 19 per cent swing to secure a narrow victory over Mr Sharma, and her election was a key factor in sending the Coalition into minority government.

As he fought to take the seat back from her, Mr Sharma cast himself as a “modern Liberal”, reflecting his electorate’s progressive views on issues such as gay marriage and climate change.

The celebrating volunteers who packed his party wore T-shirts that notably lacked Liberal Party livery. While there was a respectful silence in the room when Tony Abbott made his concession speech, some of Mr Sharma’s supporters cheered when it became clear that their party’s chief conservative warrior lost his seat.

Throughout the campaign, Mr Sharma emphasised themes of compassion and trust, and this clearly resonated with some voters who returned to the Liberal fold.

One, Anne, 33, said that she had abandoned for the party Dr Phelps last year, but had been won over by Mr Sharma in the last week of the campaign.

Another voter, Alastair Dunlop, 34, said he had “grudgingly” cast a vote for the Liberal Party, though he was disappointed with the party’s lack of action over climate change.

He said he liked and respected Dr Phelps, whom he had met, but that he did not believe that individuals should hold so much power over parties in Parliament.

Mr Dunlop said he broadly supported the Liberal Party’s economic policies and that he “could not stand” the Labor leader, Bill Shorten.

His friend Andrew Westaway said he was angered by the way the party had treated Mr Turnbull, just as he was frustrated that Mr Turnbull had not achieved more in his own right as prime minister.

But Sharon Ford of Woollahra said that she had shifted her vote to Dr Phelps from the Greens because she had proved to be effective in Parliament.

Natalie Solenko, 83, who emerged from the booths with her 76-year-old husband Bruce Young, said she had voted Liberal, as she had since arriving in Australia from Russia via Paris in 1951. “I have lived under a communist party, thank you very much.”

She said she had told her Greens-voting daughter that she should go and live in a tent.

Nick O’Malley is a senior writer and a former US correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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