Friday, October 19, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Pub test: ‘Who?’ for Wentworth
The stakes are ridiculously high in tomorrow’s by-election

It’s By-election Eve and it’s mayhem in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, with endorsements and accusations flying thick and fast. It’s hot, there’s heavy traffic around this morning’s royal visit, and everyone standing for Wentworth has by now got a bad case of candidate’s disease. They’re all in it to win it, but of course it will come down to preferences in the end, and that’s where the picture gets cloudy. A good number of so-called “rusted-on Malcolms” are backing high-profile independent Dr Kerryn Phelps, so too today is former Greens leader Bob Brown. Phelps’s shiny young volunteers, media pull and ex-Labor campaign strategists are hoping to counter the big dollars the Liberals are spending here, including television advertising – which is unusual to say the least, given this seat has Never. Voted. Anything. But. Liberal.

The electorate turned into a circus when Malcolm Turnbull blasted his way into parliament in 2004 – having bankrolled his own preselection – and it has turned into a circus again today after he was blasted out as prime minister. Then, as now, every post-material issue under the sun was in play – from Gunns and Iraq in 2004, to climate action and #kidsoffnauru in 2018. Then, as now, it was thought possible that the Liberals could lose, because the acrimony surrounding Turnbull’s preselection led to the former sitting member, Peter King, running as an independent. Then, as now, John Howard was pressed into service for the Liberal cause. In 2004, it wasn’t that close in the end and Turnbull prevailed, but this time it’s different. Turnbull will no doubt be gratified if the seat should fall without him, and his son Alex is certainly campaigning for that outcome – Greenpeace has quoted him in campaign posters taped to every other telegraph pole. Good on the younger Turnbull: which other electorate has such a good chance of giving the Liberals a slap on climate change?

The acrimony – if you could call it that, among a bunch of otherwise civilised and agreeable people – is between the Phelps camp and the Greens, who are blaming each other over their preference decisions. Phelps had initially proposed to put the Liberals last but got trolled so badly that the campaign had a fit of the doubts. When Phelps announced, as she hijacked a press conference vacated by the invisible Dave Sharma, that she would preference the Liberals over Labor, many in her own camp were shocked. There are many progressive, disaffected Liberals backing Phelps – angry at Turnbull by the end, but still appalled at the way his prime ministership was terminated, and determined to send the Liberals a message. But the Phelps camp has no doubt that the decision got her back in the game. Supporting Labor even indirectly is simply a bridge too far, even for the most peeved Liberal voter. At the polling booths, her volunteers are telling punters to never mind the ticket, just put Phelps “One” and fill in every box however they like.

The local Greens believe that Phelps shot herself in the foot by putting the Liberals ahead of them and Labor – she should have simply issued an open ticket like other independents. They also believe that if Sharma narrowly beats Labor’s low-key but excellent candidate, Tim Murray, it will be Phelps’s preferences to blame. They also question her economic justice credentials, and her track record on the City of Sydney council (where she fell out with Lord Mayor Clover Moore), although there is no question that she strongly supports climate action and justice for refugees. Phelps, at the end of the day, is a doctor and a very successful small business person who employs 50 GPs in her Double Bay practice.

The local Greens work closely with Labor on the local council and they are swapping preferences tomorrow. To much derision, the Greens branches in Wentworth decided to preference Labor ahead of Phelps, even though the only chance of winning the seat off the Liberals and sending the Morrison government into a minority is if Phelps comes second ahead of Labor’s Murray. GetUp! asked the local Greens to reconsider – they did, and stuck to their guns. If Murray beats Phelps to second place tomorrow night, and then goes on to lose, delivering the Liberals a huge win, there will be a lot of fingers pointing at the local Greens. That’s the background to Bob Brown’s intervention today: calling on Wentworth Greens to put Phelps second after the Greens. In a referendum on climate change, the stakes are that high.

Just about everyone in Bondi has been vox-popped already, so I sneak into the Tea Gardens Hotel in Bondi Junction for a quiet drink, and have the kind of quick chat that could only happen here. I meet playwright Kiralee Wellard, 28, from Paddington, in the middle of a serious conversation about sexual harassment with two male friends. “I’m voting Greens, because I like their policies,” she says. “It’s completely embarrassing what’s happening in the Liberal Party at the present. I love Malcolm Turnbull, and Scott Morrison is a complete fucking douchebag – ‘have a go, everyone, go go go’. Actually, love Bill Shorten, by the way, may consider going Labor way.” Wellard has never voted Liberal but her family have. “My second preference will be Labor, definitely.” Not to Kerryn Phelps? I ask. “She’s an independent party, is that separate from the Greens?” I have to explain who Phelps is. “I’ll have to look into her, I don’t know much about her, what’s her policies all about?”

One thing that’s not flying about much is predictions – except from the prime minister, Scott Morrison, who is desperate to claim underdog status, and today said [$] that Sharma is likely to lose. The truth is, this week’s polls notwithstanding, it’s perfectly, joyously unpredictable.

since this morning

The AFR reports [$] that Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is trying to negotiate a peace deal with key Liberal donor the Cormack Foundation, which would deliver the cash-strapped party $6 million to splurge on the next two elections.

According to Fairfax Media, Kevin Rudd’s new book reveals Israel had forged Australian passports before the incident in 2010 when Mossad agents used forged Australian passports to travel to Dubai to assassinate a Hamas official.

in case you missed it

Fairfax Media reports that former Nationals leaders Tim Fischer and John Anderson have warned Barnaby Joyce to abandon a growing push to reinstate him as deputy prime minister, while also urging federal MPs to “save the ship” by rejecting the leadership turmoil that has taken hold in Canberra.

Outspoken Liberal MP Julia Banks may run as an independent candidate at the next federal election, after she called out the “bullying and intimidation” in parliament.

Former social justice commissioner Mick Gooda has called for the Constitution’s power to “enable” race discrimination to be removed.

Former ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie has filed an adverse action against the broadcaster at the Fair Work Commission after being sacked by the board last month.

The Guardian reports on the fallout from yesterday’s leak of ASIO advice against any relocation of Australia’s embassy in Israel, a plan that is backed by John Howard. Prime Minister Scott Morrison insists that there is no evidence of any planned violence as a consequence of the move, and has accused Labor of “behaving in an anti-Semitic way”; the government has launched a police investigation into the leak.

According to the Herald Sun, Uber [$] will be hit with a $500 million class action law suit from angry Melbourne cab drivers who claim the company stole their livelihoods.

by Richard Cooke
Tired of Winning
At the gateway to Cape Fear
After the storm, North Carolina is a glimpse into a climate-changed future

by Darryn King
The Nation Reviewed
Feliks Zemdegs, Rubik’s champion
Meet the world’s fastest cuber

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?

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