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What went wrong for Dave Sharma in Wentworth?

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Sydney, October 22: Australia most likely to have a minority government as Kerryn Phelps is set to take Wentworth

Australia now has a minority government as the blue chip Liberal seat of Wentworth is set to elect an Independent Dr Kerryn Phelps who trounced the Liberal vote in one of the safest Liberal seats in the country.

We will have a hung parliament and hung parliaments can work, if the Opposition and the minority government – both are willing to make it work. It is scary times for the common man today when going into politics is a career choice rather than serving the nation. Many politicians will bend backwards to not bring in more uncertainty than we already have.

And for those Liberals from the marginal seats, the evaporation of almost 20% of primary vote in Wentworth would have sent shudders down their spines. These are tough times, poor souls.

And in all this – the new potential hero of the Liberals – Dave Sharma, the political child of love-hate relationship (of Turnbulls and Morrisons, leaving the Abbotts and Duttons aside) – will fade into the shadows – perhaps to immediately start work on his campaign for 2019.

That pre-supposes his pre-selection and no new challenge from Katherine O’Regan who was backed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison last time. And it may not be a given for Dave Sharma with several factors going against that presupposition:

  1. He does not live in the electorate;
  2. The seat of Wentworth may need a female liberal candidate given the electorate has swung against the Liberals with the history making margin and that too in favour of a female candidate;
  3. He has no experience in grassroots politics and his experience as a diplomat has proven to be not enough;
  4. His meritorious appointment as Ambassador to Israel at the young age of 37, did not win enough extra Jewish votes;
  5. He really did not have Malcolm Turnbull’s blessings, apart from initial recommendation, Turnbull did not campaign for him rather his son Alex Turnbull actively campaigned against him. Thus an impossible to achieve, the candidate, a female Liberal, should have the blessings of not only the Liberal elders, but also of the Turnbulls along with the Morrisons.

All the above factors were at play in the by-election on October 20.

Undoubtedly Dave will have to invent remedies to all the above and more – to secure the pre-selection and then win.

If the signs emitted by the Turnbulls can be rightly read, Dave Sharma may be better off scanning other NSW electorates – closer to where he can resonate more and not just depend on his diplomatic stint in Israel. It did him not much good. His appointment speaks volumes of his appeal as a DFAT employee, to the appointing Foreign Minister Bob Carr, rather than Jewish voters.

Only four days out from the voting – Dave’s idea to moot moving Australia’s embassy to Jerusalem landed him and the Liberals in really troubled waters.

It was a problem – one too many for the Prime Minister to deal with – definitely sending troubled and chaotic signals internationally – and nakedly seen as a last minute desperate political manoeuvre.

Dave’s critics will use that as his shallow knowledge of his prized area of expertise – which failed to appeal and then deliver.

His appointment as ambassador to Israel at 37 was nothing short of spectacular. It can’t be argued against.

As a side note, ambassadors are hardly path-breaking contributors to nation’s foreign policy direction which is controlled in the corridors of Canberra.

Critics of Dave Sharma will also ask the Liberals, if he was such a stellar performer as a diplomat, why did the Liberal government choose not to give him his next posting? Is it the lack of ‘godfather’ in the Liberal party?

Dave Sharma was appointed as Ambassador to Israel in 2013 by the then Foreign minister Bob Carr, in other words, the ALP. And now a Liberal party candidate makes it practically impossible for an incoming Shorten government to pick him for any such posts.

‘Politics they say is a game of scoundrels’ and it was fully at play in this by-election. Poor Dave Sharma would have experienced it first hand, and on the receiving end of it.

He was not the preferred candidate of Scott Morrison. No wonder then, Scott Morrison’s non-parliamentary supporters were telling Liberal preselectors not to vote for Dave Sharma as Dennis Shanahan noted in his piece in the Australian.

Liberal MPs said yesterday that Scott Morrison’s non-parliamentary supporters had been urging preselectors not to vote for Mr Sharma and vote for a female candidate. (The Australian, 15 Sept 2018: Dennis Shanahan)

Malcolm Turnbull praised him and encouraged him to not quit the pre-selection battle but then abandoned him and did not campaign for him. His son Alex Turnbull openly campaigned against him.

Scott Morrison did campaign for him but was totally not at home. At one stage he even forgot he was not in parliament when addressing the media he addressed speaker of the house adding ‘Mr Speaker’ at the end of his statement to the media.

There is another question – the brilliance he has shown throughout his career as a student at school and universities despite having lost his mother at a very young age, then in his career as DFAT employee – is he dauntingly smart and stellar for some in the Liberal party which is devoid of real talent and leadership?

For now, as he said on Saturday, ‘lucky he kept his day job’, better he sticks to one, while he invests all his spare time in finding a ‘welcoming’ electorate (should he not get Wentworth for 2019), where he feels at home and the ‘daggers’ of his political mates  are not forcing themselves out of their sheaths!

– DM

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