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Humanity on show in Wentworth aftermath

  • 24 October 2018


The epochal Wentworth by-election has come and gone, without noticeable effect on magpies breeding in the parks, horses converging on Flemington, people selling houses in the capital cities or iron ore trains heading to Western Australian ports.

Election night, however, did offer a glimpse of the human side of politics: the faces of people who care enough about their parties to hand out cards and to gather as the results come in. We could also see the faces of candidates and their political masters as they responded to impending victory or defeat. This, not the calculating and plotting more often reported in the media, is the real face of politics as politics. It spoke much of Australian public life.

On election night the television cameras switched to the post-election parties of Kerryn Phelps and Dave Sharma when the result appeared certain. The scene in the Phelps camp was festive, colourful and chaotic. Filled with young women, the hall become a dance floor. Phelps led the celebrations and the dancing, and reporters were caught up in the crush.

This was politics in its amateur form, a celebration of spontaneity, of independence, of inclusive sisterhood and of success beyond imagining. In her speech, flanked by her partner, she paid tribute to volunteers, donors, organisers and doorknockers, and demanded a purer politics, and action to deal with the pressing needs of the environment and refugees. It all spoke of enthusiasm and boundless hope.

The scene in the Liberal camp was naturally less exuberant and its public response to impending defeat was more formal. It was dominated by men in dark suits and ties: Prime Minister Morrison, Treasurer Frydenberg and candidate Sharma. Auxiliary staff and well-wishers were heard but not seen.

Sharma was on stage throughout the performance, unfailingly smiling. He was accompanied by his wife and young daughters, who were initially in the background but were later shifted by Frydenberg to a more conspicuous part of the stage. When Morrison arrived from the Invictus Games, he embraced Sharma and subsequently dominated proceedings.

Morrison's speech was defiant, delivered in short sentences followed by pauses in which his eyes were expressionless and his expression slightly querulous. The crowd welcomed him with a chant of 'ScoMo', and later, when he turned on the Labor Party, with a chant of 'Shame'.


"The negative energy of Morrison's speech and the way in which the candidate and his family were used as props painted an ominous