Independent candidate for Wentworth Kerryn Phelps has backflipped on an earlier statement in which she said she would preference Liberal Party candidate Dave Sharma last.
Phelps crashed a planned press appearance for Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Sharma to announce that she would now preference the Liberal Party before the Labor Party in the upcoming by-election.
At the same time, Phelps had called out Sharma for being an interloper in the electorate, where she runs a GP clinic not far from where today’s presser was due to be held before Morrison’s appearance was cancelled.
“It beggars belief that the Liberal Party was not able to find a suitable candidate from within…Wentworth and had to go far out of the electorate to find that person,” she said on Sunday.
Phelps also said that she would not block the government’s supply if elected over Sharma or Labor candidate Tim Murray.
The former marriage equality campaigner said that her preferencing announcement was in response to suggestions she was running with the effective support of the Labor Party after Phelps hired former Gillard staffer Darrin Barnett as her spokesperson.
Phelps said this would more clearly mark her as as “true independent” candidate, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.
“With so many people running in this election there needs to be some sort of guideline about how they’re going to vote,” Phelps said.
“The people of Wentworth are very intelligent, and they’re very politically engaged, and they will know what they want to do and I will respect what it is that they want to do.
“But in the how to vote card, I am going to announce today that I intend to preference Liberal instead of Labor.”
Phelps stated that she was appealing to voters on the basis that she would be able to vote with her conscience on all issues unlike the major party candidates.
Speaking to Sky News, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said he thinks Phelps “is a genuine Independent, no one controls her.”
Observers are already questioning Phelps’ preference decision given that her policies do not align with those of the Liberal Party, while others have suggested the move is pragmatism on Phelps’ part and evidence that she knows what it will take to win.
because she’s the only chance to beat sharma and to do that she has to finish 2nd (so her prefs won’t count) and to do that she must reassure lib protest voters that she’s not a LabGreen front.
— Margo Kingston (@margokingston1) September 21, 2018
Journalist and author Jill Stark tweeted that, though the move may be necessary for Phelps to win the seat, it represents “a terribly damning and depressing indictment on the current state of Australian politics and, I suspect, completely out of touch with voters, who are sick of politicians abandoning their principles for the sake of political expediency.”
The by-election for the seat, which was made vacant after ex-PM Malcolm Turnbull resigned after being ousted from the leadership, will be held on October 20.