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Debate takes a strange turn ahead of crucial by-election


Less than a day out from a by-election that could break the federal government’s parliamentary majority, debate has boiled down to “China-phobia” and giant chickens.

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Both Labor and Liberal candidates made last-ditch appeals to the voters of Bennelong today, following a campaign that turned nasty in its final week.

Labor’s Kristina Keneally was forced to justify why a man dressed as a chicken had confronted her Liberal opponent John Alexander on Thursday, holding Labor campaign material.

“I’m not sure why John Alexander chose to debate a chicken,” Keneally told reporters, but would not be drawn on whether she authorised the stunt.

The former NSW premier was also asked for examples of the Liberal Party’s “China-phobic” campaign in the Sydney electorate.

While failing to give specific examples, Keneally said she had received feedback from the Chinese community and pointed to the government’s proposed citizenship English language test.

“What I say is, the local community here, community leaders, are frustrated and angry by what they see as divisive language,” Ms Keneally said.

Meanwhile, Alexander started the day denying he breached parliamentary rules by not declaring rental income from a NSW property and says allegations are “strategically targeted” the day before Saturday’s crucial vote.

A Fairfax Media article published today questioned whether rental income on the property, which generates about $1440 a day when booked, should be disclosed.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has stood by the Liberal candidate, saying he “strictly complied” with the Clerk of the House’s advice.

The prime minister also on Wednesday admitted the Liberal Party had bought the domain to post criticisms about her record.

With the Coalition government needing to hold onto the seat to preserve its one-seat majority in the lower house, Turnbull has regularly reminded voters of Keneally’s links to jailed Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid.

But he acknowledges the outcome of the by-election is crucial to his government, which holds a one-seat majority in the House of Representatives.

“People will be casting a judgment on the government which I lead, of course,” he said.


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