Kerryn Phelps On Peter Dutton, Being 'Sensible', And Chocolate
If Kerryn Phelps was a chocolate, she'd be "something dark" with a "sensible centre".
Scott Morrison said voting for the independent candidate for Wentworth, who seems on track to claim the seat in Saturday's by-election, would be like "a box of chocolates".
"You never know what you are going to get," the Prime Minister said, borrowing from the famous Forrest Gump line.
Dr Phelps, speaking to ten daily on the shoreline of the picturesque Double Bay beach just days from the hotly-contested poll, hotly contested that characterisation.
"People in Wentworth know who I am," she said simply.
"I see the government lurching to the right. I’m concerned about the direction Australia has been taking. I think if a strong local independent stands in Wentworth, it can bring things back to the sensible centre."
When we asked what her favourite chocolate was, she laughed and answered "anything dark".
READ MORE: Embassy 'Move' Not About Wentworth: Sharma
Phelps leads the latest poll in the seat. A former president of the Australian Medical Association, well-known expert on TV, a Member of the Order of Australia and former Sydney deputy lord mayor, she is a famous and popular identity in the area.
She's hoping both her name recognition and bulging CV will catapult her to a win thought unlikely just weeks ago.
"I’ve been a local doctor here for 20 years, in public life for 30 years. I've spent time in Canberra as AMA president, I know how to manage complex issues. I know how to talk across party lines, I vote with my conscience on every issue," she said.
There are 16 candidates running in a crowded field for the blue ribbon, eastern Sydney electorate, which takes in well-heeled suburbs like Vaucluse, Bondi, Bronte and Watsons Bay.
The race is on after Malcolm Turnbull, Point Piper's most famous resident, quit parliament after being dumped as Liberal leader in August.
A gaggle of hopefuls are vying to nab the seat, but it is seemingly down to just three to watch -- Phelps, Labor's Tim Murray, and Liberal candidate Dave Sharma.
Turnbull won the seat by a 68-32 percent margin at the last election, and the Liberals have held the seat for decades. But the manner of the former PM's ousting is still a cause of raw rage among local voters.
"People are very angry still about the way Malcolm Turnbull was removed as Prime Minister," Phelps said.
"They're concerned about the far right of the party removing Turnbull. Tony Abbott, Peter Dutton, Scott Morrison, moving to get rid of Malcolm Turnbull, and it’s less than a year from the next election. They can't understand why it happened."
"They're also concerned about the general dysfunction in government, about government members basically fighting amongst themselves and not focusing on the issues important to them."
She talked of being a "reasonable voice" in federal politics. In a sometimes chaotic parliament, where even the government admitted to sometimes voting for the wrong thing, Phelps is hoping voters will respond to her campaign message of being just plain sensible.
The Liberals are pouring money into the seat, and warning of the potential chaos if they lose the seat and a vote in parliament, reducing their numbers to just 75 and therefore no longer having a clear majority.
Phelps batted away those concerns, claiming she would "act to keep the government to account, not hold the government to ransom".
But her election would put a number of close votes in doubt, perhaps most notably a Labor push to refer home affairs minister Peter Dutton to the High Court over his lingering section 44 constitutional issues.
The last time that issue came to a vote, it ended up 69-68 in Dutton's favour.
But with Turnbull no longer in parliament, a repeat of the vote would likely sit at 68-68, meaning Phelps' vote on that issue could be crucial.
Staying true to that "sensible" selling point, she resisted making a judgement at this time.
"I’m interested in evidence. I haven't seen a full brief of the situation with Peter Dutton. I would need to make sure I was completely familiar with the details of that case before i make any comment on it," she said.
"With anything as important as a referral to the High Court, it’s really important you have a full brief of evidence."
Days out from the by-election, she is leading in the latest poll.
But with Liberal money still pouring into the seat, and the unpredictability of this current parliament, it's anyone's guess how Saturday's poll will play out.