“Mah bad, Dave.” Pic: David Swift
“Mah bad, Dave.” Pic: David Swift

Voter's sassy message scrawled on ballot paper

THE sassy informal vote might not be counted in any final tallies, but it is nevertheless a great Australian tradition.

This one from yesterday's by-election sums up the sentiment in Wentworth pretty well.

"Bring back Malcolm Turnbull you muppets," the voter wrote

They also filled in the boxes to read, "I liked M. Turnbull," just to make sure everyone got the point.

The sassy informal vote says it all, really.
The sassy informal vote says it all, really.

Mr Turnbull's knifing was, of course, a key factor in the anger Wentworth's voters felt towards the government. He was a popular local member, holding the seat by a whopping 17.7 per cent before resigning from parliament.

Speaking at a press conference this morning, Prime Minister Scott Morrison acknowledged voters' fury over Mr Turnbull's treatment.

"Yesterday Liberal voters expressed their anger at the parliamentary Liberal Party. There is no doubt about that. And we copped that fairly on the chin," Mr Morrison said.

"The event of two months ago angered and outraged many Liberals and particularly those in the seat of Wentworth. That's on us, the parliamentary Liberal Party. That's not on Dave Sharma."

“Mah bad, Dave.” Pic: David Swift
“Mah bad, Dave.” Pic: David Swift

Meanwhile, the conservative side of politics is splitting between those who blame Mr Turnbull for the government's defeat (assuming postal votes don't propel Mr Sharma to a shock comeback win) and those who blame the plotters who overthrew him.

"There's going to be incredible turmoil within the Liberal Party as the blame game plays out," The Australian's Chris Kenny warned last night.

"I think Malcolm Turnbull's reputation is going to be absolutely trashed.

"We've had leaders of course take down other leaders in the past, but we've never seen a leader take down his own party's majority.

"It's going to be chaotic."

Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman was speaking for the Liberal Party's moderate wing as part of the ABC's election coverage. He described the result as a "wake-up call" and said the removal of Mr Turnbull had backfired.

"People were pretty annoyed - angry - that a prime minister that they had some regard for was removed by our own party," Mr Zimmerman said.

"People want us to provide sensible, centrist, stable government," he said. "We need to be governing from the centre."

Malcolm Turnbull. Pic: Sean Davey
Malcolm Turnbull. Pic: Sean Davey

The debate continued on the morning shows today.

Rowan Dean, host of the provocative Sky News program Outsiders, pointed the finger at Mr Turnbull.

"Malcolm Turnbull has been toxic for the Liberal Party," he said.

"Wiped out Abbott's majority. He had a 14-seat majority. Then created the circumstances for the by-election, which was unnecessary.

"Talk about bad sportsmanship. Australians love good sports. When you lose, you take it on the chin.

"This bloke is the underarm bowler of the political world. He loses the leadership, so rather than playing for the team, he picks up his bat and ball and rushes home and has a little sob down in New York with his wife, and then tries to spoil.

"That's disgraceful. You know, had this bloke just stayed until May next year he would have done a favour for the team. Let's not forget, the Liberal Party gave him the greatest honour in this country, which is to be the prime minister. And he's spat all over them."

Over on Insiders, panellists Peter van Onselen, Denis Atkins and Fran Kelly expressed the opposite view.

"He didn't campaign because they said, 'Yes, we dumped you as leader because we thought you were a bad campaigner - but you should have campaigned in Wentworth.'

"As far as the hard right of the Liberal Party are concerned, Malcolm Turnbull could walk on water across Sydney Harbour and they would have accused him of not paying the toll," van Onselen said.

"You had a prime minister who was slightly behind in the polls but well ahead of his Labor counterpart, and he got tossed out by his party. He then did what he said he was always going to do, which was leave the parliament," said Atkins, from the Courier-Mail.

"Imagine if he had ridden in on the white horse and had dared to say something about the week of madness. In fact, my understanding is they tried to get him to write a letter, but they wouldn't let him. He said, 'I would have to address the issue that brought us to this,' and it was not negotiable, so it didn't happen," added Kelly, an ABC radio host.

The trio pointed out that Dr Phelps was a "particularly strong independent" in Wentworth, given she was a strong and well-known local, and any intervention from Mr Turnbull would have been unlikely to overturn such a massive swing against the government.

Malcolm Turnbull. Pic: Sean Davey
Malcolm Turnbull. Pic: Sean Davey

It is true that Mr Turnbull was conspicuously quiet in the lead-up to the by-election.

He refused pleas for help from senior members of the government, including Mr Morrison, arguing his intervention in the campaign would have been a distraction and harmed Mr Sharma's chances.

The cruel truth is, he was a distraction anyway.

Dr Phelps ruthlessly capitalised on voters' anger over his knifing, repeatedly hammering the Liberals on that point.

"A prime minister in the middle of his term was removed from office for no rational reason," was one of her more frequent lines.

Meanwhile, Mr Turnbull's son Alex publicly urged voters to send the Liberals a message by voting against them.

He said his intervention had nothing to do with his father, who did not approve but was "dealing with it".

"He's out of office, I'm a private citizen, we can both do as we please," Alex told the ABC on Monday, insisting he was "absolutely not" doing Mr Turnbull's dirty work.

The former prime minister returns to Australia tomorrow.