“Looking back over the recent Royal Commissions, it almost seems as though our political leaders have withdrawn from the business of government and passed the buck to the judiciary,” writes columnist ROBERT MACKLIN
THE Wentworth by-election was electioneering at its worst. Appalling. Blatant. The notion of responsible government flushed down the toilet. Desperation.
No wonder former Liberal leaders distanced themselves.
When a credible independent, such as former Australian Medical Association President Dr Kerryn Phelps, puts her hat in the ring it provides an opportunity for an electorate to punish a wayward government.
The most transparent thing about Scott Morrison’s foreign policy debacle was how clearly it illustrated Liberal Party desperation. An attempt to win the Jewish vote in Wentworth by such a controversial announcement as moving the Australian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem was simply insane.
But it played second fiddle to perceived dual electoral advantages for Liberal candidate Dave Sharma.
Firstly, the move highlighted his role as ambassador to Israel and his move from the foreign office to seeking a political career. Secondly, the seat of Wentworth has a considerable Jewish community. If they voted as a block this tactic may well have been enough to secure the seat for the Liberals.
This stupidity backfired on the government, allowing Phelps the high moral ground. Her argument was that the Prime Minister simply operated without due process.
She told an election forum: “To announce it without bipartisan discussion, without comprehensive analysis of the defence, security and trade implications… there’s no question that this was a politically motivated decision”.
Morrison’s attempts to argue that this was a foreign policy announcement has the thinnest veil and seriously damages his integrity and credibility. It seems he will say or do almost anything if it might help out in an election.
The announcement provided a strategic political distraction for Sharma who had been arguing: “I accept the science of climate change. I will be a voice in the party to continue to address climate change.” As if he would be able to wrestle control of this policy from the reactionaries who continue to support the coal industry.
It is not the first time a credible independent has unseated an unpleasant or lazy member in an otherwise very safe seat. And it is not the first time that the Liberals have deployed dirty tactics. However, making a foreign policy announcement that would cause so much concern amongst so many of our allies and near neighbours without proper process is a new electoral low.
But things went lower! Circulating an email suggesting a candidate was HIV positive would be about as low as possible. However, this was specifically targeted to also create an association with Kerryn Phelps as an openly gay woman. A puerile attempt to smear, smacking of the tactics of crass student politics or the sort of foolhardy campaigning of young Liberals.
It went further, adding that Dr Phelps was no longer standing. The tactic included suggesting the recipients vote elsewhere and spread the email to their families and friends.
Crass, dishonest campaigning simply discredits all and adds to the negative perceptions regarding politics in this country.
Kerryn Phelps is following in the footsteps of other very successful independent politicians who have unseated arrogant or lazy Liberal MPs from very, very safe seats. Independent Cathy McGowan has cemented her place in what was once the safe coalition seat of Indi held by Sophie Mirabella. She followed in the footsteps of Independent Ted Mack who, in the 1990s, won the Federal seat of North Sydney from poor-performing Liberal John Spender.
The desperation tactics pursued as soon as the seat of Wentworth came under serious threat illustrates the extent to which the government will discard protocols and policies to improve electoral chances. The next election is not going to be easy for the Coalition. Chances are high for a sustained period of foul, despicable electioneering as the order of the day.