‘Teal independents’ will make House of Reps what it’s meant to be – representative

    We’re witnessing a political stirring to action, borne of despair with Liberal moderates who can’t advance their local voters’ concerns

    THE INSPIRING STORY of the 2022 election campaign is the rise of the community independent movement, and particularly the role of women and young people in this new political awakening. It is a movement of the people, arising within their communities.

    Variously dubbed the “teal independents” or “Voices of” candidates, they represent a political stirring to action reminiscent of the voting rights protests of the early 1900s, the feminist movement of the 1950s and 1960s and the peace movement of the 1970s.

    Since Cathy McGowan’s win against the incumbent Liberal in Indi in rural Victoria in 2013 and again in 2016, the independent movement has taken shape in electorates around the nation, from small country towns and farming communities to the suburbs and cities.

    The extraordinary work of our campaign team resulting in my win in the Wentworth by-election in 2018 showed that, beyond all expectations, an almost 20 percent swing is achievable for an independent in a previously safe Liberal city electorate.

    More of the same is not going to be acceptable.As Zoe Daniel, the independent candidate in Goldstein says, ‘same is not safe’.

    That opened the door for communities in other areas to say, “You know what, we want a representative in Canberra who represents OUR views”.

    “Teal independents” have a realistic prospect of winning in several electorates with prominent Jewish communities, particularly Wentworth, Goldstein and Kooyong.

    The fact that so many women are standing in seats currently held by the Liberal Party is partly a reflection of the frustration with lack of progress on gender equality in political representation, and the treatment of women, particularly in the political workplace.

    More of the same is not going to be acceptable.

    As Zoe Daniel, the independent candidate in Goldstein says, “same is not safe”.

    Zoe Daniel at her campaign launch (AAP)

    Australians will not forget the poor response to Brittany Higgins’ rape allegation, Prime Minister Morrison on the day of the 2021 Women’s March for Justice declaring it a triumph for democracy that protesters outside Parliament House weren’t “met with bullets”, or Julia Banks’ description of him as “menacing controlling wallpaper”.

    The electorate will remember Scott Morrison refusing to fulfil the election promise of an integrity commission and referring to NSW ICAC as a “kangaroo court”, while acting as judge and jury in proclaiming Christine Holgate be removed from her job as CEO of Australia Post,  bellowing in Question Time in the House of Representatives that if she did not wish to step aside, “She. Can. Go!”

    These are the headlines that have grabbed our attention over recent years, but the frustration and anger run even deeper. Child care, aged care, the gender gap in superannuation, and the rate of older women’s homelessness are examples of the outcomes of a decade of policy neglect.

    The same goes for action on climate change.  I have powerful memories, when I was a City of Sydney Councillor, of attending climate change rallies and the school strike organised by school students concerned about their future, gathering outside Sydney Town Hall and in the Domain and demanding governments at all levels take action now.

    Dr Monique Ryan in Kooyong and Dr Sophie Scamps in Mackellar have spoken about the perspective of a scientist looking at the evidence on climate change and feeling the need to step in and do something about Australia’s pitiful effort after our disappointing performance at COP26 in Glasgow.

    Allegra Spender in Wentworth has worked on the business case for climate action.

    Zali Steggall in Warringah has workable legislation ready to go, but debate on it has been voted down in parliament by the coalition. Kylea Tink in North Sydney is also campaigning on these issues.

    Helen Haines was handed the Indi Baton by Cathy McGowan in 2019 and she has a widely-consulted integrity Commission Bill ready to go. Again, debate on this has been voted down by the Coalition.

    Good governance and accountability for government spending, with an integrity commission to investigate allegations of impropriety, will need to be a priority of an incoming government, and Labor and the independents have all recognised this.

    So-called Liberal “moderates” have tried to make the case that they can work within the party to get action on these vital issues despite the shift of the Federal coalition to the right, but experience shows us that they consistently vote with the right wing of their party and their coalition partners, the Nationals, led by Barnaby Joyce and the LNP. These “moderates” have had no visible impact on progressing action on climate change.

    Australians will not forget the poor response to Brittany Higgins’ rape allegation, Prime Minister Morrison declaring it a triumph for democracy that protesters outside Parliament House weren’t ‘met with bullets’.

    This brings me to another argument about the warnings of “chaos and confusion” that might be inflicted by the election of a number of teal independents and the prospect of a balanced minority parliament. We need only to point to the fact that the Liberal government is a minority government.

    It cannot form government without a deal with the Nationals, and the terms of that deal are secret – not to mention the revolving door of leadership in both the Liberal and National parties in the past two terms.

    Brittany Higgins at the 2021 March4 Justice in Canberra (Adelaide Advertiser)

    The passage of the landmark Medevac legislation when the crossbench held the balance of power is an example of what might be achieved when more progressive voices are heard.

    One of the most frustrating elements of the election campaign has been the subtle reference to the Covid-19 pandemic using language in the past tense: “when we were going through the pandemic”, or “in the post-pandemic economy”. This tactic has been effective in keeping discussion of the massive numbers of Covid infections muted, with Covid now one of the leading causes of death in Australia.

    One of the most frustrating elements of the election campaign has been the subtle reference to the Covid-19 pandemic using language in the past tense.

    In all of my long career, I have never seen such abrogation of responsibility for a public health crisis as this. And I am not talking about more lockdowns. I am talking about following the evidence, improving ventilation and installing air filters in schools and other public buildings, public health actions to increase mask wearing, maintaining high rates of testing and reporting results, isolation of positive cases while they are infectious, a public health education program about reducing risk of transmission, long Covid and other consequences.

    Instead, we get deflection and distraction.

    Much as the government would like to wish the pandemic away, much as we would all like to wish the pandemic away, it is far from gone. Any incoming government is going to have to take responsibility for this and it will need to be a major focus.

    Communities where independents are standing will have the opportunity to elect a candidate that they have supported to represent them in the Parliament. That is what the House of Representatives is meant to be.

    Representative.

    With the election just days away, it is not possible to know for certain what the result will be.  Polling at this stage suggests either a majority Labor government, or a government with independents holding the balance of power. We know from the experience of the last election that polls can be misleading, but there is the prospect of a very exciting transformation.

    Dr Kerryn Phelps is on the Advisory Council of Climate 200