A power move in Australian politics
Unless you’re paying close attention to Australian politics, you might have missed the significance of an election held yesterday.
This was a by-election for the federal seat of Wentworth - one of Sydney’s most affluent suburbs.
The election was triggered following the resignation of then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull who had been pushed out by his own party as they start to prepare for the next national elections.
Standing as an independent, Kerryn Phelps has secured a stunning victory to claim win the election. With a 20 percent swing away from the government’s centre-right Liberal party, the result of the election was clear less than two hours after polls had closed.
Phelps has been a prominent public figure for many years in Australia. Beginning her career as a doctor, Phelps progressed to become president of the Australian Medical Association, before moving into politics with a seat on Sydney’s City Council.
One of the surprising twists in the campaign was when Phelps was targeted by smear tactics, alleging that she was living with HIV and would be stepping down from politics. Phelps clarified that she is not living with HIV, but it is an alarming indication of the level of stigma relating to HIV that is still to be addressed in Australia.
Thanking her wife Jackie, and her campaign supporters, Phelps described the contest for Wentworth as a “David and Goliath struggle.”
The victory by Phelps in Wentworth is not only significant in terms of a step forward in her political ambitions, but it causes a major headache for the Australian government and Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Morrison’s government was holding onto power with a majority of just one vote. The loss of Wentworth to Phelps means that Morrison’s Liberal government no longer has a majority.
It’s been a turbulent decade for Australian politics - in the last 10 years the position of Prime Minister has changed hands seven times. But there’s no indication that the days ahead will be bring stability. In order to hold onto power, the Morrison government must make new alliances with independent parliamentarians in order to avoid a vote of no confidence. Even if they are able to survive, making any form of progress with their legislative program and the day-to-day running of the country becomes increasingly problematic.
The next federal election has to be held before 18 May 2019, but could be held earlier than that. However, the landmark win by Kerryn Phelps in Wentworth means that the Morrison government won’t be in any rush to test their popularity with the Australian electorate.