News State New South Wales Liberals behind by a country mile in Wentworth: poll

Liberals behind by a country mile in Wentworth: poll

Signs of the times: Election posters are everywhere in Wentworth, where locals seem in the mood for change. Photo: AAP/Joel Carrett
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Prime Minister Scott Morrison has warned Wentworth byelection voters to think “carefully” before voting for independent candidate Kerryn Phelps, after a new poll placed her far ahead of Liberal opponent Dave Sharma.

The poll by independent research organisation Voter Choice Project showed Mr Sharma trailing behind Dr Phelps and Labor candidate Tim Murray by about 10 and 11 points respectively. The final sample involved 736 people.

While Mr Sharma received 38.8 per cent of the likely first preference vote in comparison to Dr Phelps’ 23.5 per cent, the projected two party preferred figures showed the independent candidate pulling ahead to 55.4 per cent to his 44.6 per cent.

Researcher Raphaella Kathryn Crosby said the results revealed that Mr Sharma would lose the byelection if the Liberal primary vote was not over 40 per cent.

“It is unclear whether it will be Sharma vs Phelps or Sharma vs Murray, but it doesn’t matter because whoever ends up [against Sharma] will win,” Ms Crosby said.

If Dr Phelps “survives the preference count, she will win over Dave Sharma”, Ms Crosby said.

Dr Phelps said she found the results “heartening” and said she stood for “strong policies the people of Wentworth actually care about”.

“Like climate change action, like the treatment of asylum seekers, supporting small businesses, an economy considerate of all people, social justice issues and of course the religious freedoms bill,” she said.

“There’s a mood for change.”

A Liberal loss would cause instability, says PM

But Mr Morrison claimed a Liberal Party loss in next weekend’s Wentworth bybyelection would cause “unnecessary instability” because his party would no longer hold the majority of federal seats.

“Liberals who are thinking about voting for the independent [candidate] should think about that very carefully, because she’s [Dr Phelps] clearly running strongly second,” he said.

“[If] she continues in that place, she can still be a long way behind in primaries … [and then] come over the top and win that byelection.

“Waking up to a hung parliament is not something I think the people of Wentworth of people would want to see.

“I have no plans to lose that election.”

The October 20 byelection was triggered after the Coalition Government booted former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull from the top job and replaced him with Mr Morrison.

Mr Turnbull, who was hugely popular in the inner Sydney electorate, resigned from the historically Liberal seat last month, leaving Dr Phelps, Mr Sharma and Labor candidate Tim Murray to vie for the seat.

The Liberal Party’s own polling painted a less dire picture for Mr Sharma, indicating he was neck-to-neck with Dr Phelps with the latter ahead by a fraction of 1 per cent.

Comparatively, Mr Turnbull used to enjoy a 17 per cent margin in his former electorate.

Phelps says she is a ‘major threat’

“I’m obviously the major threat to the Liberal Party because otherwise they wouldn’t be spending a million dollars on a negative campaign against me,” Dr Phelps said.

“I stand on my record. I’ve been in public life for 30 years, I’ve been talking about equality and social justice for 20 years, [and] I’ve run a business in this area for 20 years.”

Mr Sharma, who has had little dealings with the media since his candidacy was announced, reiterated Mr Morrison’s view that if the Liberal Party lost the byelection, there would be “uncertainty”.

“Returning an independent or a Labor candidate in the seat of Wentworth will lead to more uncertainty,” he said.

When asked about climate change, Mr Sharma said: “I do firmly accept the science of climate change and I’m firmly committed to addressing it.”

Earlier, while campaigning at Bronte on Saturday, Mr Sharma was approached by a man who asked him about his position on climate change and whether he supported the construction of the Adani coalmine.

After noticing the man was filming the conversation, the Liberal candidate walked away and asked him to remove the camera away from his face, while another person tried to push the recording device away.

The poll’s top five preferred candidates placed Mr Sharma first, followed by Dr Phelps, Mr Murray, then independent Licia Heath and Greens’ Dominic Wy Kanak. The latter were both predicted to take about 7.36 and 5.88 per cent of the polls respectively.

Ms Crosby noted both Ms Phelps and Mr Sharma would receive very little in way of votes from a preference flow in comparison to Mr Murray, meaning Labor could be the surprise victor for Saturday’s byelection.