Where’s Dave Sharma? Photo: Lawrence Gibbons

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BY ALEC SMART

City Hub hosted a forum at Beauchamp Hotel in Darlinghurst of the prospective candidates vying for the seat of Wentworth in the forthcoming federal election.

Those present included Matthew Drake-Brockman (Independent), Tim Murray (Labor), Dominic Wy Kanak (Greens) and incumbent MP, Dr Kerryn Phelps (Independent).

Liberal candidate Dave Sharma was notably absent.

With global warming and the building of a new local high school key topics on the agenda (all candidates support addressing climate change immediately, and likewise encourage construction of a new high school in the region), Wentworth residents had the opportunity to quiz their leaders on their parties’ policies and how they would best serve the community.

The Division of Wentworth encompasses most of Sydney’s eastern suburbs east of Woolloomooloo, from Port Jackson south to Clovelly and Randwick.

At just 38 sq. km, it is the second smallest geographical division in parliament (and allegedly the wealthiest), and was a safe Liberal seat held by former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull since the 2004 election.

Kerryn Phelps is still high in the popularity polls after her resounding 20 per cent swing against the Liberal’s Dave Sharma in the October 2018 by-election. It was won by Phelps after the Liberal leadership spill in August 2018 when Turnbull subsequently resigned and vacated his electorate.

Dirty tricks

Allegations of “dirty tricks” by Liberal Party supporters have resurfaced after Phelps claimed her campaign posters were again removed soon after they were put up in streets around Bondi, Rose Bay and Elizabeth Bay.

A similar allegation was made prior to the October by-election when Labor and Justice Party posters were removed across the eastern suburbs with, suspiciously, only Sharma’s left in some neighbourhoods.

Sharma denied that his campaign team were behind it.

Dr Phelps revealed on May 6 that voters in her constituency were targeted by a fifth round of “racist” emails falsely alleging she is ineligible to contest the election.

“Kerryn Phelps has been disqualified from election, she is a Jew and entitled to automatic Israeli citizenship,” the anonymous messages read.

The Independent MP was also maligned during the October by-election with malicious claims she had AIDS because she is in a lesbian relationship, although Wentworth contains the fifth largest number of same-sex couples in Australia.

Questions for candidates

Two important questions raised at the candidates’ forum included:

  1. What can be done to alleviate the rise in homelessness and addressing social inequality?

Phelps: “I speak to people sleeping rough around Potts Point and they all have a different story to tell… We need to coordinate between local, state and federal government so that we can assess what can be done and continue to press for more social housing.”

Murray: “The Labor Party have a policy to make 250,000 affordable houses available over the next 10 years and we’ll put $88 million into emergency housing for women escaping violence. We will establish a Ministry of Housing and Homelessness.”

Drake-Brockman: “Decent, affordable housing is a universal human right. Australia has ratified and accepted a number of international treaties and covenants that recognise protection of human rights, including freedom from homelessness. Australia must now meet its obligations by actively implementing programs which reduce the number of persons who are, or are at risk of, experiencing homelessness. I will promote the massive government investment in quality public housing in Australia.”

Wy Kanak: “The Greens want to build 500,000 new public community homes through a federal housing trust. We want to examine renters’ rights and make sure no grounds’ evictions are removed from that policy. We want to examine the whole way that developer greed is put before community need. We want to examine all those drivers that drive a housing market more for investment rather than the human right of a home for all.”

Can Australia look at the need for sustainable population policies that include land conservation and reversing deforestation?

Phelps: “I asked the Prime Minister in Question Time whether the Government would set up a national Environment Protection Agency and strengthen Australia’s environmental protection laws. The response? It wasn’t taken seriously. We can also do a lot more around protesting single-use plastics and the management of waste. We also need to maintain biodiversity: we have up to a million species that are at risk of extinction.”

Murray: “There is an extinction crisis. The Labor Party will put a billion dollars into environment policies, $100 million a year marked specifically for dealing with that extinction issue.

Wy Kanak: “The Greens have been champions on environmental issues for a long time. We’re looking at recovery plans for threatened species. We take a broad approach to working with Traditional Owners to look at what is a sustainable population for land use in an area.”