By Henry Johnston
The ABC program Q&A broadcast on Monday February 4 2019, featured a panel of independent Federal members of Parliament.
The Member for Melbourne and deputy leader of the Australian Greens Adam Bandt, not an independent, joined Tony Jones and other panellists for an hour of probing questions from convenor and audience.
Love it or loath it Q&A alone justifies the ABC budget, but the makeup of this particular programme posited a future scenario which might change the topography of the national political landscape.
The next Australian Parliament could see an Opposition bench comprising these independents, and a slew of others. Judging by the tone of the questions and the Twitter comments rolling across the bottom of my television screen, Australians appear likely to choose an independent over an incumbent sitting Liberal or National Party member.
And it is crystal clear the Liberal Party of Australia is ignoring this threat to its existence. The well-funded campaign of high profile candidate Ms Zali Steggall OAM in the Federal seat of Waringah is a case in point.
The possible return to the House of Representatives by former Federal member for Lyne in NSW Rob Oakeshott, revives memories of the Gillard minority government, supported by two of last Monday’s Q&A guests; the Greens’ Adam Bandt and Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie.
It is unlikely either MP will join a minority Shorten Labor Government, but as key players in an Opposition made up of independents rather than members of the Liberal and National coalition, Wilkie, Bandt, Sharkey, Banks, Phelps et al, could sound the death knell of the loony, conservative Liberal rump.
Furthermore strong independents could emerge from both the right and the left.
Ructions within the Australian Greens might see former Greens candidate for the Melbourne seat of Batman Ms Alex Bhathal who quit the party citing ‘organisational bullying,’ recontest as a left independent.
Similarly NSW MP Emma Husar who lost ALP endorsement for the Federal seat of Lindsay is ‘considering her options‘.
On 7 December last year The Guardian reported an investigation by the ALP found, “Husar had mistreated her electorate staff but did not find evidence to support claims of sexual harassment or of her flashing another federal MP”.
The circumstances surrounding Bhathal and Husar garnered substantial media coverage, but other lesser-known independent-minded political aspirants, such as Liberal blue-blood Oliver Yates, snagged media coverage when he announced he would contest Josh Frydenburg’s safe seat of Kooyong.
Add these potential names plus Steggall to last week’s Q&A line-up, then count Cathy McGowan the independent MP for Indi and Bob Katter the independent MP for Kennedy in Queensland, plus others I might have omitted, and a formidable second tier Opposition bench emerges.
But despite this obvious political threat, the Morrison Government acts as if it has the numbers in the lower House while denigrating perfectly reasonable legislation pertaining to refuges in off-shore detention, put forward by the Federal Member for Wentworth Dr Kerryn Phelps.
When Prime Minister Scott Morrison scorns the Phelps initiative by saying it is, “selling out our border protection to get a cheap opportunistic win in the parliament,” he pushes thousands more electors toward independent candidates, and makes my thesis of an independent Opposition bench more likely.
Add to this the PM’s backing of Liberal MP Tim Wilson over a sham franking credits inquiry just days after the fall-out from the findings of the banking Royal Commission, and it is safe to predict 20 to 30 Liberal/Coalition seats could fall at the next election.
While this figure seems high, swings at state elections in Victoria, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, resulted in miniscule opposition benches.
Like it or not, this is how the nation voted, and woe betide any political party which ignores the signs.
Speaking of portents, millions of dead, stinking fish befouling the rivers of the Murray Darling Basin, means a cohort of National MPs also face the fate of their smug Liberal counterparts.
The Federal Member for Maranoa in Queensland and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources David Littleproud is I believe, vulnerable to an independent rural candidate who believes in science and climate change.
Speaking of science, Littleproud said this on the ABC Radio AM programme recently.
“This is politics, and when I became the Water Minister, I took the politics out. I didn’t call people names, like what happened in the past. It had to be a mature debate; it had to be predicated on science. The science was predicated, it was put in front of the Parliament, and these people should stop playing politics. They agreed to the science less than three months ago”.
Henry Johnston is a Sydney-based author. His latest book The Last Voyage of Aratus is on sale at Brays Bookshop in Balmain an at Forty South Publishing.
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