As Kerryn Phelps looks assured of winning Wentworth, the extraordinarily ham-fisted way in which Scott Morrison tried to appeal to Jewish voters in the seat in the last week of the campaign is becoming clearer.
This morning at Senate estimates, foreign affairs minister Marise Payne admitted that the first she’d heard of any proposal to conduct a review of whether the government should move its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem was the Sunday before the byelection. That was when she received a phone call from Morrison telling her a review would be undertaken. Pointedly, Payne refused to deny that the byelection was discussed during her phone call with Morrison.
The only consultation Morrison undertook in relation to the decision was in a leadership group meeting — with the Liberal and National party leaders in both chambers — the following morning on Monday. Remarkably, Payne admitted there was no briefing from the Department of Foreign Affairs for that meeting, and wouldn’t even say if there were any papers prepared at all for the meeting.
In fact, according to DFAT secretary Frances Adamson this morning, Payne and her office left the department entirely out of the loop for nearly 24 hours, refusing to tell them of Morrison’s decision until Monday afternoon. It wasn’t until 1pm when Payne’s chief of staff finally got around to contacting Adamson to advise that the government was undertaking a significant departure from a long-standing bipartisan policy and would be announcing it the next day. Selected media were briefed later on the Monday by Morrison’s office, before allies and key regional governments were advised of the decision.
Defence estimates hearings have already elicited that Defence was only told mid-afternoon on Monday and that senior defence officials didn’t find out until after the media had been briefed and Defence was unable to carry out its protocols for distributing sensitive information before stories of the government’s decision had already appeared online.
Yesterday, Kerryn Phelps’ lead in Wentworth increased by nearly 100 votes to 1643, with only around 2250 votes left to count.