The Wentworth by-election: Was it worth it?

Just like that, the blue-ribbon prize seat of Wentworth – the jewel in the Liberal crown – is gone, and Scott Morrison’s
Coalition Government must now govern with a minority of 75 seats for the remainder of the parliamentary term.
Although counting tightened yesterday, Independent candidate, Dr Kerryn Phelps, is still expected to secure victory with
a 19 per cent swing.

The result is a significant blow to the Morrison Government after last week’s shambolic parliamentary sitting week, which
left you believing the Government is in chaos – unable to lead the debate, nor manage its agenda. Within a
Government, who just last week, “accidentally” supported Pauline Hanson’s motion that it’s “ok to be white”, it is difficult
to see whether they have the discipline to govern from minority where every vote matters, and negotiations with the
crossbench is crucial to getting legislation through the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The crossbenchers – Cathy McGowan, Andrew Wilkie, Adam Bandt, Bob Katter and Rebekha Sharkie, as well as
potentially Kerryn Phelps – are likely to confirm supply, although that may come with a wish list of policies that it wants
to see action on. A number of these are generally supportive of a conservative philosophy so it won’t be too difficult to
find points of similarity.

Those on the ground in Wentworth suggest the message was loud and clear – the electorate didn’t appreciate their
local MP, Malcom Turnbull, being turfed out. While Dave Sharma was an excellent candidate for the Liberals, and
millions were poured into the campaign, the chasm between what the electorate wants and the policies the Liberals are
prepared to give it, was too high. This offered the perfect storm when combined with an Independent candidate with an
incredibly strong profile, and who spoke on the issues that mattered to them, especially action on climate change and
the treatment of asylum seekers.

With public opinion on detention turning, and the usual ‘stop the boats’ mantra that has been so successful for the
Coalition in the past, beginning to lose its voting shine amongst sections of the population, Dr Phelps has already
indicated this will be her priority once elected, with the New Zealand resettling option ‘definitely on the table.’ This is also
likely to stir up sections of both the Government and the Opposition who are motivated to find a better solution,
creating potential tensions in both parties.

What’s next?
As the prospect of a minority government filters through the corridors today, Bill Shorten and the ALP will be counting
the days until Australia goes to the polls. The ALP’s unified leadership, and focus on health and education, will remain his
priority as final touches are being placed on policy frameworks to take to the next election.

As for the Coalition Government, they will try and hold on until May, try to push off the Turnbull leadership spill and its
terrible consequences to the pages of history. Phelps will also want some time to enjoy her new role – supporting the
Government to reassure her Wentworth constituents that an independent MP can deliver significant influence within the
Parliament.

This week will be another tough one for the Prime Minister – only the House of Representatives is sitting as Senate
Estimates are on the calendar, and the Nationals are threatening a leadership coup of its own. The ALP will be looking to
do as much damage to the Government while testing policy ideas and strategies through the lens of Estimates.

Coalition members will try hard this week to convince the voting public that the Wentworth result was not indicative of
the broader population and was purely a protest vote against the leadership spill. If, as believed by many, this is a sign of
things to come – the Coalition Government is facing a landslide defeat.

When will Australia be heading to the next election?
It all depends on the Government’s discipline. While odds remain in favour for an election towards May 2019, the
Government has two balls left in its court to firm up support – it alone calls the election, and improving revenue figures
not only potentially brings a surplus back within reach, but also leaves money to splash out on an electorate, to ensure
they don’t lose all the furniture for the next generation of Liberal MPs as well as the house. The release of MYEFO
towards the end of the year will give further insight into just where the surplus sits, and just what the Government will do
with the rivers of gold.

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