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Lesbian Wins Key Seat in Australian Parliament, Tips Balance of Power

Kerryn Phelps

An independent lesbian candidate in Australia has won the seat in Parliament once held by former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and tipped the balance of power in the nation.

Kerryn Phelps, a doctor who was active in the successful campaign for marriage equality in Australia, emerged the winner in an election held Saturday to fill the vacancy left by Turnbull’s recent resignation, The New York Times reports. The seat represents the Wentworth district in Sydney’s suburbs.

Phelps’s victory over Liberal Party candidate Dave Sharma also cost the party, which is actually a center-right party, its one-seat majority in Parliament. Turnbull resigned the seat in August when he was ousted as prime minister and party leader. It is a “prized blue-ribbon seat” that “has been held by the Liberals as long as the party has existed,” The Sydney Morning Herald notes.

The changed makeup of Parliament means the new prime minister, the Liberal Party’s Scott Morrison, “will have to negotiate with independents and the opposition to pass every piece of legislation between now and the next federal election,” the Times reports. That election will likely be held in May, but Morrison could call one sooner.

Phelps’s political stances are “socially progressive and economically conservative,” according to the Herald. One of her priorities is addressing climate change, something that is not often supported by economic conservatives in the U.S.

A general practitioner who was the first woman and first lesbian elected president of the Australian Medical Association, Phelps also campaigned as an alternative to politics as usual. In her victory speech, she called the race “a David and Goliath struggle,” the Times reports. She added, “This is a great moment for Australian democracy. This win tonight should signal a return of decency, integrity, and humanity.”

A lack of decency surfaced at one point in the campaign. In the final days leading up to the election, someone sent out an email under Phelps’s name saying she was withdrawing from the race because she had been diagnosed with HIV and was asking her supporters to get behind Sharma. The sender of the email has not been identified, but both Sharma and Morrison denounced it.

Phelps may have a long tenure ahead in Parliament. “The strength of her victory sets her up as a longtime MP who could be extremely difficult to dislodge,” the Herald reports.

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