If the Liberal Party was looking for runaway momentum as the campaign enters its second innings, it was found in the quick exit of controversial candidate Katherine Deves from a Sydney rally on Sunday.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s captain’s pick for Warringah, promoted as a beacon for free speech and an antidote to cancel culture, was whisked from the Sydney Olympic Park venue with the aid of a security detail to avoid being peppered with questions by journalists as a high-octane event wrapped up.
Warringah candidate Katherine Deves was whisked from the event by security.Credit:James Brickwood
Ending with her inside an elevator and facing off against a media throng, Deves’ escape was the finale to a day which marked the halfway point of the federal campaign during.
A campaign that had been punctured by news of a security pact between Solomon Islands and China and heat over Deves was reset on Sunday morning by the prime minister’s visit to a western Sydney community centre to talk about mental health.
The vitality of the volunteers of the youth-oriented organisation Batyr offered another kind of energy to Morrison’s campaign, which then moved to the Liberal rally at Sydney Olympic Park.
Scott and Jenny Morrison sat in a circle with a group of youths while one, named Oliver, spoke about his own family trauma and struggle with mental illness, a speech described by Jenny as “very courageous”.
Morrison revived his promise for an anti-trolling bill and said regulation of social media was one of his “great missions”.
“If we want to be strong as a country … we need to be dealing with this stuff,” he said.
When later questioned about how this mission aligned with comments by Katherine Deves, who opposes transgender women in female sport, the prime minister said they were separate issues.
Deves has made several since-deleted comments on social media, including likening men “with trans identities” to sex offenders.
“She has withdrawn those and she said they’re insensitive, and that was my view as well,” Morrison told the media pack.
Then it was off to the rally, where Morrison switched gears with an assertion there was “no time for weakness” under Labor’s Anthony Albanese.
Marise Payne, usually one of the Liberals’ most self-contained figures, stalked a frenzied crowd to the anthem ‘Thunderstruck’ and offered a show of pep to signal the campaign’s second half.
The Foreign Affairs Minister affected a more lively gait as she announced sitting MPs and candidates in knife-edge seats atop distorted guitars, warming the stage for the main act while party die-hards cheered below her.
Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne entered to the theme of AC’/DC’s ‘Thunderstruck’.Credit:James Brickwood
Then Scott Morrison arrived with a “how good, how good”, barely audible above the applause at an event billed as a Sydney homecoming which also marked the halfway point of the campaign and neatly fell on the same day as Labor’s campaign launch in Western Australia.
Morrison paid tribute to NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet. Morrison recently denied leaking a text message from Perrottet expressing support for the embattled Warringah candidate.
Perrottet remained seated throughout but Reid MP Fiona Martin, Lindsay member Melissa McIntosh, and Macquarie candidate Sarah Richards all leapt to their feet to sell the government’s message.
As the event closed, the Warringah candidate was bustled out by a security detail which forged the way through reporters lobbing queries at the candidate. The swarm moved through the ballroom to a lift, at the back of which Deves stood shielded by the bouncers keeping media at bay.
Meanwhile, Perrottet posing for selfies, meandered casually out the door.
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