Kerryn Phelps Wentworth byelection

The Pope is a Catholic. A bear finds relief in the woods. The independent candidate for Wentworth will preference the Liberal Party.  

Kerryn Phelps may not be progressive. What? Next, they’ll be saying our Vicar of Christ lives in Rome. It’s not like Councillor Phelps was described by her Mayor last June as “more comfortable with the conservatives on council“. Phelps never found herself poolside chez Turnbull. She did not publish a book in 2002 then ask Alan Jones to launch it at a hatted Sydney restaurant. No. By which we mean, yes. These are facts, but also alternative facts. They are, if you like, post-truth.

Phelps was not the sole creator of her progressive post-truth brand. In my view, News Corp did most of that work. In 1998, Phelps and her wife Jackie Stricker-Phelps were brutishly outed by the Sunday Telegraph, or “a newspaper” per the weekday Telegraph. After 20 years, this moment of editorial cruelty still defies understanding. All cruel Murdoch moments defy moral understanding, but this defied a gentleman’s understanding: in press, we do not speak of “broad-minded” arrangements.

The Australian media sector has long been full as a phonebook of queers. To risk naming one was to risk shaming all. To their credit, the women were so gracious about that foul assault, they kept a lid on Mutually Assured Destruction. Phelps and Stricker-Phelps remain the only same-sex couple to have their privacy demolished by Australian press.

I was living half inside a closet at the time and felt very keenly for them both. But, many who lived without concealment felt the same. They became heroic because, really, they had been.

Phelps may not have planned her transformation, but became love’s progressive defender nonetheless. She may not have consciously used this status to urge for “integrative medicine”, a profitable business she described when AMA president as “the emerging mainstream”. Phelps’ strong support for natural therapy never seemed to me the best fit for the unnaturally austere time of Howard.

Still, Phelps has fans who see her as progressive, even if market-friendly and even if unfriendly to urgent contentions. First as a survivor of torment and later as an advocate for same-sex marriage, Phelps has held the progressive pass for years that Tim Wilson was only permitted to keep for an afternoon.

Today, a Liberal bloke called Dave has her preference, and this might be technically a backflip. Or, it may even be a strategy purchased from Watson Consultants. Phelps’ adviser, a former Young Liberals vice-president and Turnbull and Berejiklian employee, may have some psephology up her sleeve.

But, even so, we should not be persuaded that Phelps is even the progressive neoliberal Margo Kingston admires. She may be the neoliberal whose lack of progressive commitment disappointed Clover Moore. She may not be the Labor Party trickster identified by Scott Morrison. Then again, she might, because it ain’t like the ALP is short on neolib aggressors who speak of “inclusion” when they’d prefer to speak of nothing at all.

If Phelps does win that seat never once lost by Liberals, it will be something to see. A novel sight, like if the Holy Father took a dump in the woods alongside the bear. It will be something to celebrate for those who are tired of the Pope always being Catholic. It may turn out to be nothing at all.

Look. I don’t know much more of the woman than what she has publicly declared. Perhaps beneath the Third Way grammar, the naturopathy and all those ABC panel appearances that restate the claims made by at least two people on every ABC panel I have seen, there is a politician of substance. Perhaps the progressive can progress from almost nothing to almost something of an idea.

Perhaps I am wrong to snub the passionate post-truth statement. Perhaps herbal tonics and inclusion have more power than I know.

Perhaps Phelps herself is the “emerging mainstream”. An integrated blend of feelings and “inclusion”. A consumer-focused therapy for an age in poor health and a memory of a New York City wedding.

What do you make of Phelps’ campaign in the Wentworth byelection? Let us know at [email protected].