Deposed prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has arrived back in Australia as his former seat of Wentworth looks seat to leave Liberal hands for the first time in its 117-year history.
Mr Turnbull and his wife Lucy landed at Sydney airport on Monday morning and avoided reporters by slipping out through the loading dock, the Seven Network reported.
Their return follows a huge swing against the Liberal Party in Saturday’s Wentworth by-election, with some blaming Mr Turnbull’s failure to campaign for candidate Dave Sharma for the bad result.
The Turnbulls travelled to New York after the Liberal Party’s leadership spill that toppled him from the nation’s top job in August.
The pair made a brief stop in Singapore to visit their son, Alex, who used social media to criticise the Liberals in lead-up to Saturday’s vote.
Incredible result and proud of the people of Wentworth. A hearty congratulations to @drkerrynphelps who fought a great campaign. A great day for Australian democracy.
— Alex Turnbull (@alexbhturnbull) October 20, 2018
Scott Morrison, who replaced Mr Turnbull as PM, downplayed his former colleague’s decision not to help the party campaign in Wentworth.
Mr Morrison said Mr Turnbull rejected several requests to help Liberal candidate Dave Sharma, including writing a letter of support.
Independent candidate Kerryn Phelps is on track for a historic win in Wentworth after achieving an unprecedented swing of more than 20 per cent.
In an extraordinary turn of events, postal votes counted on Sunday gave the Coalition some hope of retaining the seat, only hours after independent candidate Kerryn Phelps looked to have it all sewn up.
ABC election analyst Antony Green had called the by-election for Dr Phelps as early as 7pm on Saturday – only an hour after polls closed – but her lead had narrowed to just under 900 votes by noon on Sunday.
— Antony Green (@AntonyGreenABC) October 20, 2018
Counting throughout the day re-established Dr Phelps’ lead to 1100 in the afternoon and to 1600 by Sunday evening.
That gave Dr Phelps a two-candidate preferred vote of 51.1 per cent over Liberal candidate David Sharma on 48.9 per cent.
That would deliver Dr Phelps a historic win, with the seat never having been out of conservative hands in its 117-year history.
A loss for the Liberal Party would place the coalition into a minority government with just 75 seats in the House of Representatives, while the Labor party has 69 lower house MPs.
Mr Sharma told Sky News on Sunday night it would have been nice for Mr Turnbull to have made an appearance during his campaign.
Mr Morrison, meanwhile, was unsure how much of a difference a strong recommendation from Mr Turnbull would have made to the campaign.
“Quite a number of us asked for that support, not necessarily in the form of a letter. There are many other ways in which people can choose to express their support,” Mr Morrison told reporters on Sunday.
“There were even approaches made by Dave himself. What impact they would have had, ultimately, is for others to judge.”
Mr Turnbull was the Member for Wentworth from 2004 until quitting federal parliament in August after being replaced as prime minister.