Dr Kerryn Phelps, the government‘s biggest threat in Malcolm Turnbull‘s old seat, just did an about face and is now preferencing the Liberals

Kerryn Phelps/TwitterDr Kerryn Phelps

Dr Kerryn Phelps, who is standing as an independent candidate in former PM Malcolm Turnbull’s old seat of Wentworth, has changed her tune in less than a week, announcing today that she’ll recommend voters preference the Liberal candidate Dave Sharma ahead of Labor’s Tim Murray in the October 20 by-election.

Phelps, gatecrashing a planned media event by Sharma and Scott Morrison in the electorate before the PM became a no-show and cancelled at the last minute, said her how-to-vote card will preference the Liberals ahead of Labor.

With 11 candidates standing, and polling showing the Liberal primary vote has fallen from above 60% under Turnbull to less than 40%, preferences will be crucial to the Coalition maintaining both Wentworth and its one-seat majority in the lower house.

Preferencing is optional in NSW state elections, and up to 70% of votes exhaust, meaning no preference is directed to another candidate.

Phelps said votes in Wentworth were intelligent and politically engaged.

“They will know what they want to do and I will respect what it is that they want to do,” she said.

The about face by the City of Sydney councillor and former Australian Medical Association president comes just five days after she launched her campaign on Sunday telling voters to put the Liberals last and send a message “that Canberra needs to be a voice for the people”.

Phelps, already accused of being a Labor stalking horse for employing an ex-ALP strategist as her campaign coordinator, denied any affiliations with the major parties saying she was a “true independent”.

But her change of heart on a preference recommendation cruels the already slim chance Labor had of taking Wentworth unless voters supporting Phelps ignore her suggestion and mark their ballot with Murray, an investment analyst and chairman of the Tamarama Surf Lifesaving Club, as second preference.

But polling shows Phelps is likely to snare a higher primary vote than Murray, which means she will need to take a large number of preferences from Labor supporters as well as the other independents in order to snatch the seat from the Liberals for the first time in history.

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