Question Phelps can’t answer
IN HER her first appearance since the Wentworth by-election, independent candidate Dr Kerryn Phelps strongly backed her policies and also dodged a repeated question on ABC's Q&A.;
Dr Phelps, who rode a historic swing against the Liberals, refused to answer host Tony Jones' question that had Malcolm Turnbull expressed his direct support for Liberal candidate Dave Sharma, he would have beaten her.
"Look, I don't want to get too deeply into the analytics," Dr Phelps said. "I've been focusing on the issues that are important to the people in Wentworth and to the people of Australia. "We've got a bright future ahead of us as Australians, if we get this right. And there were issues of such monumental importance to our future, like action on climate change, the treatment of asylum seekers, the future of the ABC, a national integrity commission. These are the issues that people wanted to talk about."
But Jones pressed Phelps again for a comment: "We're going to talk about them. Do you think it would have made a difference if Turnbull had supported Sharma?"
With just 1600 votes now separating Dr Phelps from rival Mr Sharma, the leading candidate responded: "I don't know. I can't really say. I mean, there was a lot of anger about the way Malcolm Turnbull was treated."
"He was a popular local member. A lot of people were disturbed about the way he was removed and that was certainly a big factor. Whether he had come back in and said all is forgiven and everything is fine, I think that's just fantasy."
Members of the Liberals - who continue to face a humiliating defeat - have criticised Mr Turnbull's lack of involvement in helping him win the seat that he held for 14 years.
NSW's Liberal Party president Philip Ruddock, who was also on the panel, said he does not have a judgment on whether Mr Turnbull would or would not have been able to influence the matter.
"My view is he has to make his own judgment as to what he thinks was appropriate in all the circumstances. The only comment I would make is that I think we do in Australia treat former PMs appallingly."
Political commentator Peter van Onselen said he doesn't blame the ousted prime minister for not engaging "after the way he was treated".
Phelps said there has been a lot of anger and frustration among residents of Wentworth with the direction the Liberal Party has been taking.
"They wanted more socially progressive policies and they weren't hearing that from the Federal Liberal Party," she said.
"All they were hearing about was the factional infighting within the Liberal Party and self-interest and not about the interest of the Australian people."
On the back of referring to the current political climate as "confused" and in "utter chaos" Dr Phelps said it's very important "we do have a stabilising effect of the crossbenchers, who are able to look at legislation and modify it where necessary, to reject bad legislation, to negotiate with government for better outcomes for the Australian people."
When asked about the smearing and "disgusting" email falsely claiming she has HIV, Dr Phelps told Jones it has reported to the Australian Electoral Commission and to the Australian Federal Police.
"I did it because I don't want this to be a feature of any future campaigns. The other thing I wanted to achieve was to take this and say 'it is a long road that we still have to go to destigmatise HIV'."
"For someone to think it's a slur, for someone to think it's an insult to say somebody has been diagnosed with this infection, HIV, tells me that even though we've come so far, we still have a long way to go."
When questioned on one of her main priorities, offshore detention, Dr Phelps said it is time to bring it to an end.
"It's cruel and unusual punishment. I don't think it sits well with the Australian consciousness," she told Jones. "And I think that it is time that it is brought to an end."
"I think we also need to look at the options that are on the table for resettlement options and the New Zealand option is a very good interim measure at least."
The government is refusing to accept New Zealand to resettle asylum seekers without legislation, currently in the Senate, that would stop them ever coming to Australia.
While the swing against the Liberals undoubtedly reflected widespread anger about the treatment of Turnbull, Dr Phelps said the party's stance on failing to take real action on climate change also played a huge role.
"There was absolutely no question that climate change action was a major issue at the Wentworth by-election," she said.
"It was something almost everybody was talking about. You couldn't miss the presence of climate change activists in the area.
"What we need to do is accept the science on climate change. Climate change is real and I'm science trained and I've been satisfied by the evidence for a very long time."