Former PM Malcolm Turnbull returns to Australia after fleeing to New York following leadership spill

Malcolm Turnbull has returned to Australia after controversially fleeing to New York to avoid the by-election in his former seat of Wentworth.

As the Liberal Party braced for a likely and unprecedented defeat in Australia’s richest postcodes, party faithful blamed the deposed prime minister for failing to publicly endorse Liberal Party candidate Dave Sharma.

Mr Turnbull quit Parliament in August, sparking a by-election in his former Sydney eastern suburbs seat of Wentworth, which saw the Liberal Party suffer a 19 per cent swing against it on Saturday, leaving Prime Minister Scott Morrison without a majority.

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Malcolm Turnbull (pictured at Sydney airport with wife Lucy) has returned to Australia after controversially fleeing to New York to avoid the by-election in his former seat of Wentworth

Malcolm Turnbull (pictured at Sydney airport with wife Lucy) has returned to Australia after controversially fleeing to New York to avoid the by-election in his former seat of Wentworth

Malcolm Turnbull (pictured at Sydney airport with wife Lucy) has returned to Australia after controversially fleeing to New York to avoid the by-election in his former seat of Wentworth

The multi-millionaire former prime minister Mr Turnbull and his wife Lucy had been staying in their luxury $4.5million apartment in Manhattan, overlooking Central Park, in the months leading up to Saturday’s by-election.

After flying into Sydney from Singapore on Monday, Mr Turnbull told media the couple were ‘just here privately on a break’.

He had reportedly refused several pleas from inside government asking him to publicly endorse Mr Sharma, a former ambassador to Israel.

Mr Sharma made a last ditch attempt for Mr Turnbull’s public endorsement last week, calling the former prime minister himself on Thursday evening, but to no avail, The Australian reported.

High-profile independent Kerryn Phelps was leading the Liberal Party’s Dave Sharma, 51 to 49 per cent, after preferences, following a 19 per cent primary vote swing against the government at the weekend by-election.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison blamed the mammoth swing in Wentworth on Mr Turnbull being undermined by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, who launched two leadership challenges in three days in August.

Saturday's polls were swamped with people wielding cardboard cutouts of the former leader with the words 'Where's Malcolm?' (pictured)

Saturday's polls were swamped with people wielding cardboard cutouts of the former leader with the words 'Where's Malcolm?' (pictured)

Saturday’s polls were swamped with people wielding cardboard cutouts of the former leader with the words ‘Where’s Malcolm?’ (pictured)

He described Wentworth’s loss of Mr Turnbull as a ‘big price’ to pay in the latest leadership coup – leaving many calling on an early federal election.

Saturday’s polls were swamped with people wielding cardboard cutouts of the former leader with the words ‘Where’s Malcolm?’.

In seemingly his only public move surrounding the citicism, Mr Turnbull liked a tweet of independent candidate Kerryn Phelps, but later un-liked it.

The tweet stated Dr Phelps’ supporters were ‘no longer wondering’ where Mr Turnbull was, instead they were ‘hoping for a strong independent win’.  

Meanwhile in seemingly his only public move surrounding the citicism, Mr Turnbull liked a tweet of independent candidate Kerryn Phelps, but later un-liked it

Meanwhile in seemingly his only public move surrounding the citicism, Mr Turnbull liked a tweet of independent candidate Kerryn Phelps, but later un-liked it

Meanwhile in seemingly his only public move surrounding the citicism, Mr Turnbull liked a tweet of independent candidate Kerryn Phelps, but later un-liked it

Supporters of Dr Phelps, who leads by about 1,676 votes, used Mr Turnbull’s absence from the political scene as fuel for their agenda.

He remained quiet ahead of the weekend’s crucial by-election and made no public announcement in favour of the Liberal Party or the Morrison Government.

Instead, his Singapore-based son, Alex Turnbull, urged voters to support the independent Dr Phelps, calling her early victory a ‘great day for Australian democracy’.

Mr Turnbull held a commanded lead in the popularity vote in Wentworth before he was axed as prime minister and forced to forfeit his seat.

In 2016, the former prime minister won Wentworth with a two-party margin of almost 18 per cent, making it one of the Liberal Party’s safest seats.

Wentworth, Australia’s wealthiest electorate, has been held by the conservative side of politics since it was created in 1901. 

Not all hope has been lost for Mr Morrison, however, with more than 1,000 postal and pre-election votes still to be counted.

Instead, his son, Alex Turnbull (pictured), urged voters to support the independent Dr Phelps, calling her early victory a 'great day for Australian democracy' 

Instead, his son, Alex Turnbull (pictured), urged voters to support the independent Dr Phelps, calling her early victory a 'great day for Australian democracy' 

Instead, his son, Alex Turnbull (pictured), urged voters to support the independent Dr Phelps, calling her early victory a ‘great day for Australian democracy’ 

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