An email falsely claiming Independent candidate Dr Kerryn Phelps has pulled out of the Wentworth by-election because she has HIV has emerged, in what the candidate says is just one of the “dirty tricks” being deployed in the campaign.
The email, obtained by the ABC, was sent to hundreds of constituents and organisations from a fake address on Sunday and urges recipients to divert their vote to Liberal candidate Dave Sharma.
The ABC does not suggest Mr Sharma or anyone involved with his campaign was behind the email.
Dr Phelps said it was the latest tactic in a campaign being waged against her.
She told the ABC the email was “shocking and disturbing”.
“When I went into this campaign people warned me that there would be dirty tricks, but this is next level,” Dr Phelps said.
The email said Dr Phelps was no longer running for Wentworth.
“Can you divert your vote to Dave Sharma in instead? It is very urgent, please let your friends know, too,” the email said.
“Use all your phone, messenger and social media and show support for Dave Sharma on your Facebook too.
“The voting card has been printed already, you will still see her name, but she has already quit.
“Please DO NOT vote for her, just choose Sharma as your top choice only. Kerryn was diagnosed with HIV yesterday so no chance she will be running for the election.
“Choose Dave Sharma. Otherwise if you choose local white, they will be molesting your children someday.”
The email also requests that the recipient help remove Dr Phelps’ posters.
University of Technology Sydney (UTS) emeritus professor John Daly was one of 98 people at the university to receive the email and was so concerned he reported it to the university and Dr Phelps.
“The whole thing I think was poisonous, pretty toxic, pretty irresponsible, pretty morally reprehensible,” Professor Daly said.
“The link between professor Phelps and a particular medical condition I think it smacks of misogyny.
“I think people who send those kinds of poisonous, toxic communications should be held to account, so I wasn’t prepared to let the matter rest.”
A UTS spokesperson said it had investigated the email and identified the IP owner as Australia Sydney Vocus Communications Group.
A spokesperson for Vocus said the email could have been sent from any one of its 500,000 Dodo and iPrimus email accounts.
Dr Phelps said other tactics during the campaign included the use of “flying squads” to remove her posters across the blue-ribbon electorate, and misleading ads.
“It goes from the practical, like our posters being torn down not once, not twice but three times and having to put those back up again,” Dr Phelps said.
“There have been nasty photoshopped pamphlets alleging an association between me and Labor.
“I’ve been alleged to have been a Liberal plant, I’ve been alleged to have all sorts of motivations for standing other than the real motivation, which is caring about the future of Australia.
“There have been misinformation campaigns going around about me, scare tactics and all manner of tactics that are being used to try to undermine my campaign.”
Dr Phelps said people in the electorate were telling her they wanted politics done differently.
“They don’t want to just accept that dirty tricks and nasty tactics and questionable tactics should be a part of our political landscape,” she said.
But she said her treatment should not deter women from pursuing a career in politics.
“There will be people who stand around you, who stand with you, who will support you and provide strength in difficult times and it’s worth doing,” Dr Phelps said.
On Twitter, Mr Sharma said he was “disgusted and appalled at the despicable email circulated” about Dr Phelps, saying it was dishonest and stigmatised people living with HIV.
A Liberal Party spokesman said the party condemned this kind of behaviour, and always followed correct protocols in political advertising.
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