'We were punished': What losing Wentworth means for the government

The biggest swing in Australia’s political history has landed the nation with its second minority government in just over eight years.

It has also raised many questions as to where the Scott Morrison-led government is headed.

When predicted Wentworth by-election winner Independent Kerryn Phelps takes her seat there will be a crossbench of six members in the House of Representatives with Labor holding 69 seats and the coalition one short of a majority with 75. 

Dr Phelps achieved an unprecedented swing of more than 20 per cent on Saturday night against Liberal candidate Dave Sharma in Malcolm Turnbull’s former seat.

However, as of Sunday afternoon the margin has narrowed, with the gap expected to be about 500 votes between Dr Phelps and Mr Sharma, Fairfax reported.

Dr Phelps is still expected to claim the seat.

Wentworth by-election winner Independent Kerryn Phelps following her win on Saturday. Source: AAP

Earlier, she all but ruled out any prospect of supporting a no-confidence motion in the coalition government. 

“I’ve certainly said that the government and all governments should go full term unless there are exceptional circumstances and the next election is due in May next year and that’s time enough,” Dr Phelps told ABC on Sunday. 

Manager of opposition business Tony Burke told ABC Insiders on Sunday Labor would also be unlikely to put forward a no-confidence motion in the government, which would need 76 votes to succeed.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison with Liberal candidate Dave Sharma following Dr Phelps’s win. Source: AAP

“We want to see a Shorten Labor government be elected at a general election. That’s what we want to see,” he said. 

Mr Burke said the coalition government had shown many times “they are incapable of governing, even with a majority. Now we have a hung parliament.” 

‘The public were angry’ 

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the coalition had been sent a message in Wentworth but would “cop it on the chin”.

“We were punished. Absolutely. The public in Wentworth were angry,” Mr Frydenberg told Sky News on Sunday. 

“What we saw was their popular local member and the prime minister of Australia lose his job and we were punished for that.

A protestor with a Malcolm Turnbull mask is seen with supporters of independent Dr Phelps in Sydney. Source: AAP

Liberal MP Jason Falinski said Mr Turnbull’s absence from the campaign hurt Mr Sharma.

“I don’t think we can deny that if Malcolm had been more public in his support for Dave that that would have had an impact,” he said.

But Mr Sharma said the former prime minister had been through a “bruising” experience and had offered the support he could.

Mr Morrison promised the government would be back at work and “great days” were ahead. 

Liberal party urged to reset policies 

Former Liberal leader John Hewson says the defeated party needs to rethink and completely reset.

“You can’t keep drifting to the right and think you’re going to win an election,” Dr Hewson told ABC TV on Sunday.

“You have to get back to centre ground.”

Dr Hewson, who held Wentworth from 1987 to 1995, said Saturday’s results marked the biggest by-election loss in Australian history.

Mr Morrison during parliament question time in Canberra on Tuesday. Source: AAP

While he believes the best strategy for the now-minority Morrison government is to go through to the next election, he noted voters were fed up with the “self-absorbed, game-playing, point-scoring” behaviour. 

“That sort of focus in our political debate has done all the damage,” he said. 

“There’s a very big message there that you’ve lost touch with the electorate in that seat and I believe more broadly.”

With AAP