Liberals must knuckle down and learn to listen in wake of Wentworth
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Liberals must knuckle down and learn to listen in wake of Wentworth

Despite dire warnings by Scott Morrison and other Liberals a vote for Kerryn Phelps in the Wentworth by-election was a vote for political instability and chaos that could drag down the economy, it doesn't have to be that way.

Phelps, widely expected to win despite a late swing back to the Liberals' Dave Sharma on the postal vote, is a grown up and somebody it should be possible for the Coalition to do business with.

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She preferenced the Liberals over Labor, has said she believes every government should run its full term unless there are "exceptional circumstances" and indicated she would not block supply.

It should be far easier for the Morrison Government to negotiate with this cross-bench during what is likely to be no more than six to eight months of minority government than the task Julia Gillard faced following Labor's poor showing in the 2010 election.

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Gillard came up four seats short; a much worse position than the Coalition will be in if Phelps comes up trumps.

Four cross benchers, including Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott and Andrew Wilkie backed Labor, at least initially. Green's cross-bencher, Adam Bandt, was also bound to vote with Labor on motions of confidence and supply as a result of the ALP-Greens coalition agreement negotiated between Gillard and Bob Brown.

Despite the eventual collapse of the agreements with Wilkie and the Greens, Gillard was able to control the parliament until 2013 when she was dumped just ahead of the election in favour of Kevin Rudd.

Our first female Prime Minister had used her time well; passing 561 bills including legislation to establish the NBN and the National Disability Insurance Scheme, pension increases, tax cuts and significant changes to paid parental leave.

The Morrison Government could spin the current situation to their advantage if they spend the next six to eight months demonstrating they can act like adults and govern Australia for all Australians; not just the factional interests individual MPs have chosen to align themselves with.

Phelps has flagged a number of issues, including refugee policy and climate change, as of particular interest to herself and her constituency. She has indicated she is ready, willing, and able to negotiate legislative solutions in conjunction with the Government, other cross-benchers and the Opposition.

Given the Coalition, despite until now having a parliamentary majority, has not covered itself with glory over its handling of these matters, it has little to lose by trying a different approach.

It is well over a century since Otto von Bismarck observed "Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable - the next best". The adage, coined while he was remaking the map of Europe during particularly turbulent times, is as true today as it was then.

It would be to the Morrison Government's advantage if it took this advice to heart and actively worked with the cross-bench, and even the ALP, to put some of these issues to bed ahead of next year's Federal poll.

The only way that will happen is if they discover an ability to listen to voices other than their own. The Coalition's current problems are the direct result of their refusal to do that until now.

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