World’s dumbest election plan
IF THE Liberals win the critical battle for the prime ministerial seat of Wentworth it will be all thanks to one political party, and it sure as hell won't be the Liberals.
The once impenetrable blue ribbon fortress of eastern Sydney is now set to fall after the farcical hard-right toppling of Malcolm Turnbull that failed to even install its own candidate. If these guys ran an ice cream parlour you'd order a Bombe Alaska and be given a banana paddle pop.
As a result, the 62 per cent-plus primary vote by which Turnbull won the seat just two years ago has almost halved to somewhere in the mid to high 30s, depending on which public poll you believe. Private polling shows the Libs' candidate has never cracked 40 per cent.
In the eternal question of cock-up versus conspiracy you'd have to go with cock-up because no one could possibly conspire to cock this up so badly. The only catch is that there actually was a conspiracy and the Libs somehow managed to cock that up too.
So who could have predicted such a Liberal-destroying rout in the Liberals' own heartland? Well, nobody - except of course anyone who read a piece I wrote for news.com.au predicting exactly this more than a year-and-a-half ago.
As I said at the time: "In 2010 the ALP nearly persuaded high profile doctor Kerryn Phelps to run. If someone like that takes on a garden-variety Liberal in a by-election you'd be mad not to cash in your super and put the lot on red."
And now here is Dr Kerryn Phelps taking on a garden-variety Liberal in a by-election. Honestly, it really is tough being right all the time.
Of course technically Phelps isn't running for the Labor Party this time and that only makes her an even worse nightmare for the Libs: A sensible, centrist, celebrity candidate who actually lives in the area. If you put her in a leather jacket and sunglasses you couldn't tell her apart from the Terminator.
Indeed, independents stealing Coalition seats is such a cliche in Australian politics you could set your watch by it. Former Nats Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott both ran against their old party and then handed government to Labor in 2010 and Cathy McGowan famously nobbled the Liberal warhorse Sophie Mirabella in 2013. And just last month the NSW blue-blood seat of Wagga, held by the Liberals for more than 60 years, fell to an independent affable doctor. Sound familiar?
Once elected, independents are typically extremely hard to de-elect. They need only to serve their communities instead of national, state or party interests, and this seems to be somewhat popular in their electorates.
One notable example was the enigmatic Richard Torbay, the long-serving member for the NSW seat of Northern Tablelands who won more than 80 per cent of the two-party vote at both the 2003 and 2007 state elections. Bob Carr used to taunt the Nationals in Question Time that Torbay was still out doorknocking.
"He's trying to find someone who didn't vote for him!"
But all of that comes later. When you're an independent candidate actually trying to knock off a major party in a seat they hold, the trick isn't to come first - it's to come second.
In other words, you don't need to beat the champion, you just need to beat the contender. An independent candidate only has to score more primary votes than the conventional opposition candidate and in a preferential voting system virtually all opposition votes will flow to them and they will leapfrog the primary vote winner and take the seat on a two-party preferred basis.
Of course anyone who knows anything about politics already knows this, and so to them I apologise for stating the bleeding obvious. But these words are written for those who know nothing about politics - in other words, the Greens.
For it is the Greens who are the Liberal Party's great white hope in Wentworth.
When Kerryn Phelps first announced her candidacy she declared that voters should "put the Liberals last" which made her sound uncannily like a student socialist. I know this because I was a student socialist and our campaign slogan was "put the Liberals last".
But she has since seen the light and now says she will preference the Liberals ahead of Labor. After all, 62.3 per cent of Wentworth voters can't be wrong and even a kindergarten mathematician can tell you that Phelps will need around a quarter of those Liberal votes if she is to get a majority.
Naturally Labor does not give a flying f**k about this because it is a party that deals with politics in the real world, not a rainbow Shangri-la conjured up by punching bucket bongs while singing along to 4 Non Blondes. The ALP knows that the only way the Libs will lose Wentworth is at the hands of Kerryn Phelps, which is precisely why they have spent so many years trying to convince her to run.
Indeed, it is for precisely this reason that Labor is cheerfully running as dead as a doornail in Wentworth. Their candidate, whatsisname, even openly said that he didn't care who Phelps preferenced and is himself preferencing Phelps at number 4. Labor doesn't want to beat Phelps because it knows that if its guy goes against the Libs in a two-horse race the Libs are a cert to win. If it's Phelps, however, the Libs are almost just as certainly 'gawn'.
The Greens, on the other hand, are either too idiotic to figure this out or too extremist to care. When Phelps said she was preferencing Liberal over Labor, the Vaucluse Rouge faction lost their lettuce and cut Kerryn loose.
As a result, if you want to find Phelps on the Greens how-to-vote card you have to wade through the Voluntary Euthanasia Party, the Animal Justice Party, the Science Party, the Arts Party and various other public luminaries before you get to the only candidate within a bee's dick of beating the party who the Greens were so upset about her preferencing in the first place.
But the real problem is that they are putting Labor before her - even if they did place him after assisted suicide. Indeed, there is probably no better way of encapsulating the entire Green campaign strategy.
Because as things stand now the Liberals are in front, Phelps is second, Labor third and the Greens fourth. This means the Greens will be the first of the four to get knocked out and have their preferences distributed. And if their preferences get distributed to Labor as the party directs then the ALP will overtake Phelps and Phelps will be knocked out. And if even just half of her voters preference Liberal then the Libs are home and hosed.
In short, the Greens losing their sh*t over Phelps preferencing the Libs will result in the Libs getting elected. There might be a word to describe this level of stupidity but it hasn't been invented yet.
Indeed, the only way that the Liberals won't win Wentworth is if the majority of Greens voters are smarter than the party they're voting for - which isn't exactly a safe bet.
Of course the loopy left will insist that the Greens aren't being idiotic at all, just ideologically pure. After all, the very future of the planet is at stake and so there is no room for compromise when it comes to tackling climate change.
Indeed, just look at the Greens' policies on climate change and you'll see how much there is to be done:
• Transition to 100 per cent renewal energy
• Bring back the Climate Change Authority
• No new coal-fired power plants
• No government subsidies of new fossil fuel developments, including the Adani coal mine
• Fully commit to the Paris International Climate Agreement
• Ban political donations by fossil fuel companies.
The only slight catch is that these are actually Kerryn Phelps policies on climate change.
Yep, even though Phelps has the exact same position on what the Greens consider to be the greatest threat to human civilisation - and one far greener than the ALP - they are prepared to shaft the whole planet because they don't like her giving preferences to a party who will only get her preferences as a result of the Greens themselves.
Again, there is no word in the English language to describe how dumb these numbnuts are. Maybe the Germans have one.
Normally the closest most Greens members come to a mushroom cloud is when someone opens a window in Leichhardt but somehow out of either sheer stupidity or spite they have managed to blow up the one chance of unseating the Liberals in Wentworth's entire history. How ironic that a party which claims to oppose global warming constantly adopts a scorched earth strategy to anything it doesn't like.
If the Greens want to lynch Kerryn Phelps for not being left-wing enough then let them; if they want to give Wentworth to the Liberals then let them; and if they want to give majority government to Scott Morrison then let them do that do.
But the next time they complain about conservatives in power every left-of-centre voter in the country should remember this moment with crystal clarity and make them wear it like a crown of thorns.
- Joe Hildebrand co-hosts Studio 10, 8.30am weekdays, on Network Ten and is editor-at-large for news.com.au.