Inside Wentworth: Turnbull accuses Webdiarist of ‘mischievous dishonesty’

Blue Ribbon Wentworth is emerging as the epicentre of an intense debate over Liberal values in the campaign, and the second front in Howard’s attempt to regain power. Wentworth voters are being individually targeted by Labor’s David Patch and the warring Liberals, preselected candidate Malcolm Turnbull and the current member, moderate Peter King.


John Howard is worried that King will stand in Wentworth as an independent Liberal and that Turnbull will lose the seat. Tonight, reader reports on the action.

It’s hand to hand combat in Wentworth if the experience of Webdiarist Jonathan Nolan in Bondi Beach is any guide. In Labor’s Costello wedge keeps Wentworth on the move I published Jonathan’s first email:

I don’t want John Howard as PM, but apparently being in Wentworth I can still vote Liberal and not worry. A worker for Malcolm Turnbull (outside Bondi Beach Post Office last Saturday) told me that a vote for Turnbull is NOT a vote for Howard. I was amused and slightly baffled so they got Malcolm himself to speak to me. After confirming this point he added two more reasons to give him my anti-Howard vote: 1. Get the Liberals back in and you’ll only have Howard for two years, and 2. He was only one to go up against Howard on the war in Iraq. He added that the monarchists would be rubbing their hands in glee if he doesn’t get in. Now I know that definitely includes John Howard. (And yes, I am willing to take a lie detector test.)


Here’s what happened next:

Margo – I am no writer but following your publishing of my letter I feel emboldened to write an update. I’ve had my first close-up taste of the dishonesty that is politics today and I don’t like it.

Margo flatteringly called me a Webdiarist in her Wentworth piece, but until I had a chat with Malcolm Turnbull last Saturday and a chat with a friend who encouraged me to send a letter to the SMH on Monday, the political urge hadn’t really kicked in.

However, the urge changed to anger when I received a phone call from Malcolm accusing me of being ‘mischievous and dishonest’. I was in a business meeting at the time and shouldn’t have taken the call, and I offered to call him back. That made him angrier. ‘So you have time to write letters but no time to speak to me!’ he shouted. I put down the phone feeling a little threatened and shaken. (Note to new political self: Never send a political email with your telephone details.)

An email followed:

Dear Jonathan,

As I said to you on the phone a moment ago, your email to various media outlets “recounting” a conversation with me and a campaign worker on Saturday is mischievous and dishonest (and unbelievable for that matter).

The only matter I recall your seeking to discuss with me, and our discussing, was the republic. You had, in your conversation with my friend, apparently expressed concern that I had sold out on the republic by being part of the Liberal Party. I pointed out to you that I remained a republican, that I was very upfront about that on my website (for example) and that the Liberal Party was a broad church with many republicans in it. I explained my position on the republic in terms which I won’t repeat here but which are set out on my website.

Regards, Malcolm Turnbull

The strange thing about this is that I only obliquely mentioned the republic in my original letter (” monarchists would be rubbing their hands in glee”). But the matters I raised seem to have jogged his memory about the rest of our conversation. It sort of proves he remembers me and the conversation. The “Howard will be gone in two years” grew out of the republic conversation, a ploy to get my anti-Howard, pro-republic vote.

Anyway, if this is the way politics works, count me out. I am not dishonest. I stand by my report of what I heard from Malcolm’s mouth last Saturday but can do without the abuse that such honestly brings. Mischievous? You can judge. But if a campaign worker is using the phrase “A vote for Malcolm is not a vote for Howard” to get me to stop and chat on the street, I think voters would like to know.

In some very, very small way I know now how Mike Scrafton must feel. He has enormous courage.


A Webdiarist involved in Liberal polling in Wentworth who needs to remain anonymous

I worked as one of the telephone interviewees on the polls into Wentworth recently. I don’t live in Wentworth and knew a tad more than zilch about Turnbull or King before I worked on the poll.

In the recent Peter King -v- Malcolm Turnbull poll I probably would have interviewed between 300 and 400 voters in Wentworth. The gender split was pretty much 50/50.

Whoever was responsible for the poll – I suspect Turnbull – placed no emphasis on quality control – in particular no attention was paid to classifying responses evenly across all eligible voting age groups. The poll’s outcome explains John Howard’s letter to members of the Liberal Party in Wentworth.

Who has got time to shoot the breeze on the phone for a few minutes and answer some dumb questions about their pet hates? Mostly the oldies. The majority from both sexes I interviewed would have been 50 plus, and the majority of that group would have been 65 plus.

I estimate the total size of the sample at 4000, and believe that the responses I received would have been indicative of those received by all the other interviewers on the team, of which there were about ten.

The feel I got for the situation on the ground was that if Peter King ran as an independent liberal he would literally kill it. Amongst the liberal voters King was perceived as having a very strong community presence and respect. He seemed to be in people’s faces for all the right reasons. He seemed to be a very involved with the community at a grass roots level.

Amongst Liberal voters Turnbull is generally hated for whatever it was exactly that he did. Labor support in general was very strong, and there seemed to be a strong swing to Labor by traditional Liberal voters. The Greens also polled strongly – The Greens seem to have become the “let’s keep the bastards honest” party.


A worried Wentworth voter and Webdiarist who wants to be anonymous

Your opus on Wentworth has really got me stirred up and I need to vent some ‘stuff’. My concern is with what to do about the “Not Happy, John!” campaign as it relates to Wentworth. I’m not sure it’s really the best thing if King stands under the NHJ umbrella. And I know nothing about party politics.

1. What am I angry about?

I’m angry about the lying rat crashing the country, and on so many levels. All these have been gone over and over, except I’m sick of hearing about the good economic management stuff.

The guts of good economic reform was done by Keating and Hawke. What we really have is a Government that has specialised in keeping people mortgaged to the hilt – home, school fees, private health, investment properties, any bloody feel-good thing you can think of – prodded along with hand outs and bonuses all coming from cuts to the public sector and sales of assets. Good economics? Good manipulation, good politics. Howard has created a generation dependent on interest rate stability (and therefore him as the spin goes).

And I’m angry with all the liberals who sat on their hands watching it all happen, like when Costello bowed before Howard and didn’t walk for reconciliation. Howard’s power has been given to him by his gutless team, so now Liberals are saying “Look what he’s done, Oh dear if we just get rid of him we’ll be alright again”.

Too late I reckon. And that’s the problem I’ve got with King. He was there, he was one of them. The Valder NHJ campaign makes sense to me when true independents like Wilkie are standing, but King?

2. What am I most worried about?

I’m worried about Abbott. I’m worried about Howard making sure Abbott gets the baton. That’s where I worry about Wentworth with King under the NHJ banner. Up until now a NHJ label in Wentworth probably meant Labour/Green/other/ and Turnbull wherever down the ballot. If NHJ campaigning in Wentworth means King, then does this mean risking the seat going to a liberal in whatever clothes? If the Libs do get reelected with King as an independent, what can he do to influence the next leadership round? But if the Libs get back with Turnbull, then he may represent some moderating influence in the party, against Abbott I mean.

So if Wentworth goes Labor then probably Latham is in. If Howard wins, and Wentworth goes to King (with NHJ help) then what good will that be? Crossing the floor? Maybe, but no party room influence. If Howard wins with Turnbull, then maybe there’s a moderating influence in the party room.

All very hard for a NHJ devotee.

3. What do I want to happen?

Throw the whole lot of them out. Make them look in the mirror of these black years and regroup. I agree with Renata Kaldor. To that end I think the best outcome for Wentworth would be a Labor win, (it’s unlikely to be Green!!). Therefore should I stop NHJ campaigning here? Or am I missing something really simple?

Margo: As long as King and Labor’s David Patch swap preferences, Turnbull is gone and Wentworth makes the strong statement that it is “Not Happy, John!” If I lived in Wentworth I’d vote Greens 1 – thus giving them my $2 in public funding and denying it to the big two until they clean up the disclosure of their private donations. I’d vote Labor 2 and King 3.

Don’t worry about what to do until the electionears, when hopefully Newspoll or the SMH will do a quality poll on the seat. And remember, King’s big chance to win Wentworth is as a NHJ candidate, and if he’s game to do that he will have to criticise Howard’s regime from a true Liberal perspective. This would create national news, force Howard to properly answer his critics within the Party, and perhaps even alert Liberal voters in other safe seats that they too could make their vote count through a protest vote against Howard’s regime (see the NHJ Campaign website for more info).

Webdiary columnist and Liberal Party member Noel Hadjimichael reckons the maths go like this:

“The only way that Mr Turnbull might be defeated in an environment where Labor gets no more than 5% swing in its favour nationally is to have the following scenario played out:

1. Labor’s candidate remain under 28% in primary vote (not hard),

2. Peter King gathers at least 18% primary vote,

3. The Greens and other minor candidates total less than 18% preference, and

4. King gets preferences 70:30 over others to give King an additional 13% flow.

This would leave the final play as Turnbull 38%, Labor 27%, King 18%, Greens/others 17%. After Greens ands others distribute second preferences we’d get Turnbull (say 40%), Labor (say 29%) King (31%).

After Labor preferences which split 75:25 split in favour of King, King gets up on 52%.

It is only if King finishes second after all but Labor preferences have been distributed that Turnbull can be stopped.

If Labor comes in second, the overwhelming majority (65%) of King’s conservative small l liberal base will return to Turnbull.

Labor can’t win Wentworth but it can stop Turnbull. The Greens can’t win Wentworth but they can punish the idea of the millionaire candidate.

Turnbull’s primary vote would have to crash to less than 25% before he did not finish up as one of the two last standing after preferences. His best tactic would be to stand a “stooge” monarchist/rabid right wing candidate who would preference him. Will the Monarchist League’s P Benwell be a candidate?


Exchange of Webdiarist emails on the Liberal backlash theory

Paul Somerville to Justin Whelan

Phew! Just read Margo’s piece on web diary – not “Poor George” flagged on the main site page, but the longer piece “Labor’s Costello wedge keeps Wentworth on the move”. It’s fascinating to watch the number of opposing trends that seem to be playing concurrently in this campaign – in particular the different interests of disaffected Liberals in safe Liberal seats (over issues like refugees and the war in Iraq) alongside the marginal mortgage belt’s concerns about interest rates. Turnbull’s comments to the Bondi voter in Margo’s piece are amazing.

Would be cool if Peter King runs in Wentworth. Have you seen the ABC’s electorate by electorate breakdown?


Justin to Paul

I know, it’s all happening! I do doubt Margo’s excitement about disaffected Liberals leaving in droves though. I think a more realistic assessment suggests they will do what disaffected Labor voters do, and put someone else No.1 but then preference the Libs. Labor has already adjusted itself to this phenomenon and still takes us for granted because they know that not enough people will defect to the Greens – especially if they think the Greens might actually win- and that ultimately, as Gerard Henderson wrote yesterday, you HAVE to vote for either the Coalition or Labor.

Peter King could make it interesting in the way that independent National mayors like Tony Windsor are beating the pre-selected National Party candidates. But Howard is safe in Bennelong – it’s not that small “l” liberal – and elsewhere. So probably only a seat or two max, and Peter King would quite possibly preference Turnbull anyway, so if he gets 3rd (likely) Turnbull wins after all.

Everyone knows Howard lied to parliament over the Children Overboard Affair. Robert Mannepointed out that there is a gap in the Westminster convention here if the PM decides to just ride out the wave of criticism, telling us accountability rests on events on polling day. He figures people won’t care by the time the election comes around. And then when the election does arrive, he wants us to “focus on the future” as if accountability for the past is not a fundamental part of any election – remember 1996 anyone? Watch the Letters pages – plenty of people are buying it.

This is an election in which the public is being asked to rank truth and accountability in government alongside mortgage interest rates and Medicare and the war on terrorism. Howard is actually appealing to voter apathy and cynicism, saying “you can trust me on the only thing you really care about: your mortgage.”

The irony with all the “death of democracy” talk among the left is that the public may actually vote for their own disenfranchisement. Now there’s the real shades of fascism.


Harry Heidelberg, Webdiary’s expat Liberal columnist, in Sydney on holiday

If I was in Wentworth, I would vote for King in an instant. No hesitation, no equivocation. Never, ever Turnbull and all this crap machine stuff.

Someone has to be the liberal, and bugger the lot of them.

I hope there is a HUGE backlash and I don’t even care if Labor wins that seat. I really don’t. Imagine the Labor or Greens member for Wentworth wandering the streets of Double Bay past the Rollers and the miscellaneous German marques. Then John Howard would get his wish. Someone would be looking at a Rolls Royce and would say that’s cool, or something. We are living in VERY strange times.

The Liberal Party has taken its own constituency for granted for way too long – piss all over the core and butter up the marginals. Appalling, appalling, appalling.

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