Kerryn Phelps backflips, announces she will preference Liberals over Labor
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Kerryn Phelps backflips, announces she will preference Liberals over Labor

The independent candidate for Wentworth Kerryn Phelps has announced she will now preference the Liberals ahead of Labor in a major backflip on her earlier claims.

Just days ago, Dr Phelps, a GP and Sydney City councillor, said she would be recommending her backers put the Liberals last on their ballots in the vote on October 20.

Speaking in Double Bay on Friday, Dr Phelps said she would hand out how to vote cards which would encourage her supporters to put Liberal candidate Dave Sharma ahead of Labor’s Tim Murray.

The media had assembled in Double Bay on Friday morning for a press conference due to be held by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Mr Sharma, when Dr Phelps unexpectedly appeared.

"With so many people running in this election there needs to be some sort of guideline about how they're going to vote," she said.

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"The people of Wentworth are very intelligent, and they’re very politically engaged, and they will know what they want to do and I will respect what it is that they want to do.

"But in the how to vote card, I am going to announce today that I intend to preference Liberal instead of Labor."

The local doctor said she wanted to quash rumours she was running with the support of Labor arguing she was a "true independent".

Kerryn Phelps in Double Bay on Friday morning.

Kerryn Phelps in Double Bay on Friday morning. Credit:AAP

Mr Sharma spoke with locals and the owner of the Double Bay cafe after the PM failed to show for the organised press conference.

It was unclear why the press event was cancelled after the unexpected arrival of Dr Phelps who operates a GP surgery 400 metres away.

The Prime Minister appeared at a Catholic school in the electorate later on Friday to give his press conference, addressing his funding announcement for non-government schools and the S&P decision to raise Australia's credit outlook.

He also addressed the morning's kerfuffle at the cafe, saying that "crashing press conferences" is "a Labor party trick".

On the substance of Ms Phelps' announcement that she would preference the Liberal Party over Labor, Mr Morrison said he welcomes it but "it doesn't make her a Liberal.

"All I know is there is one Liberal candidate running for Wentworth. That's Dave Sharma."

"When you have a handpicked Labor apparatchik running your campaign, you're not there to help the Liberal party," he said.

"As the Labor party has said themselves, they believe that her candidacy ... will help the Labor party."

Voters will go to the polls on October 20 in the waterside seat vacated Malcolm Turnbull after he resigned following his ouster as prime minister last month.

The high-profile doctor has been linked to Labor, after hiring Labor staffer Darrin Barnett.

Mr Barnett worked for former PM Julia Gillard and is employed by the Maritime Union of Australia. He was hired to be Dr Phelps’ campaign spokesman in the lead-up to the October 20 vote.

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On Sunday, Dr Phelps took a swipe at her Liberal rival, saying “it beggars belief that the Liberal Party was not able to find a suitable candidate from within...Wentworth and had to go far out of the electorate to find that person”.

Mr Sharma, a former Australian ambassador to Israel, lives in Turramura near his father, more than 20 kilometres from Wentworth, according to media reports.

"He needed a guided tour around the beaches," Dr Phelps said of Mr Morrison's introduction on Friday of his party's Wentworth candidate at Bronte Beach.

Mr Sharma said he had "a house lined up that I'll be moving into next week".

He pledged to be "a great local champion" for the electorate, adding that he was "very much focussed on my own candidacy" when asked about Dr Phelps' entry to the race.

Dave Sharma speaks to locals at a Double Bay cafe on Friday.

Dave Sharma speaks to locals at a Double Bay cafe on Friday. Credit:AAP

The cancellation of the PM’s press conference came at the end of a tough week for Mr Sharma who was forced to issue "an unreserved apology" for an opinion piece penned earlier this year in the Herald in which he suggested teachers were "underemployed".

"School employees and teachers are similarly underemployed, working hours closer to three-quarters of a regular full-time job," he wrote in Fairfax in June.

"I know teachers work really hard and around the clock," Mr Sharma told Fairfax Media on Wednesday.

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"The main thrust of the article wasn't to have a go at teachers, I was talking about the underutilisation of school assets.

"It was more provocative than it should have been, it was just meant to get people thinking about how schools are still a post-war institution even though life and families have moved on."

Mr Sharma also wrote on Twitter this week that he owes "all teachers an unreserved apology ... Comment about teachers unfair [and] unwarranted".

"I benefited from many hardworking [and] great teachers, as do my daughters."

with Jenny Noyes

Alexandra Smith is the State Political Editor and a former Education Editor at the Sydney Morning Herald