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The Great Teal Tsunami: Arise Australia’s Independents

Rarely in Australian history has a governing party suffered such loss in the face of an opponent unable to claim complete victory. It said much about the disillusionment, and plain disgust, from that nebulous centre of the country’s politics. That centre roared on May 21, consuming sitting government members and inflicting a bloody reckoning.

That reckoning was made in traditional inner-city seats that have never known anyone other than conservative members. It was part of a “teal” electoral tsunami, comprising candidates who would not necessarily wish to vote for Labor or the Greens, but who had found the Liberal-National government of Scott Morrison impossible to stomach on matters ranging from gender equality to climate change.

In the Melbourne seat of Goldstein, held by the Liberal Party’s Tim Wilson, former ABC journalist Zoe Daniel stormed through. It was a showing most fitting: the electorate is named after Vera Goldstein, feminist and women’s rights campaigner who, in 1903, was the first woman to stand for election in a national parliament. “She ran as an independent several times,” Wilson said in a telling reminder, “because she was so independent that she couldn’t bring herself to run for either of the major parties.”

In the same city, the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, was overwhelmed by Dr Monique Ryan in Kooyong. (Postal votes are currently being tallied, but it does not seem likely that Ryan will lose.) This loss for the Liberals will be keenly felt, given Frydenberg’s leadership aspirations.

The story was repeated in Sydney, with the same narrative directed like a dagger at the Morrison government: You, fossil fuel devotees, mocked climate change, disregarded gender equality, and sneered at policing corruption in federal politics. Wentworth went to businesswoman Allegra Spender, who had, during the course of her campaign, managed to assemble an army of 1200 volunteers.

Spender’s team, comprising a number of company directors, many women, is a revealing sign that movements can take root in the arid soil of caution that is Australian politics. “You said you were standing for the community, not the party,” she told supporters, “for taking responsibility, not blaming, for compassion, not division and for the future, not the past.”

In the seat of North Sydney, held by the mild-mannered Liberal Trent Zimmerman, a victorious Kylea Tink reiterated the laundry list issues that had motivated the teal revolution. “The majority things for me,” she told Crikey, “are climate action, integrity and addressing inequality.”

The victory of the various independents was the Liberal Party’s version of the Trojan Horse, one that had found itself parked in their heartland seats and released on election night. It was a triumph of community organisation, not rusted party politics, despite Wilson’s fulminations about sinister external forces at work. It was the apotheosis of a movement that began with Cathy McGowan, the Victorian independent who won the rural seat of Indi in 2013.

This was also an election which delivered the highest Greens vote ever. Queensland, almost always the deciding state, may well furnish two, possibly three Greens members in the House of Representatives. The Greens leader, Adam Bandt, put much it down to the turbulent, vicious weather of recent times. “We’ve just had three years of droughts and then fires and then floods and then floods again and people can see that this is happening.”

Remarkably for the group, they managed to win the Liberal-held seat of Ryan in the process. They are also on the hunt in the Labor-held Melbourne seat of Macnamara. “We are now on planet Greensland,” exclaimed the Greens candidate Elizabeth Watson-Brown on realising her triumph in Ryan, “and we are taking it forward.”

While the Labor opposition have good reason to cheer the prospect of forming government in almost a decade, other facts are impossible to ignore. The Greens continued their now established historical trend of eating away at Labor’s vote in inner suburban areas, notably in Queensland.

Across several states, the party actually suffered, along the Liberal National coalition, a precipitous fall in the primary vote. To form government on such a low primary return is staggering and says much about the loss of appeal of the established parties. “It would be an unusual win for Labor,” noted a sour editorial from the Australian Financial Review, “with no grand policy ambitions or sweeping difference from the incumbent Coalition government.” Only Western Australia, keen to punish the Morrison government, arrested that tendency, and may end up giving Anthony Albanese a majority.

Labor also bungled in the previously safely held south-west Sydney seat of Fowler, where Kristina Keneally, who had only lived in the electorate for a brief spell, missed out to local grassroots independent, Dai Le. The swing of almost 18 per cent away from Labor shows that Keneally, when she suffers defeat, does so in grandly catastrophic fashion. The story of this debacle is also salutary to major parties who parachute heavy weight politicians into seats as part of party and personal ambition, rather than the interests of voters.

While the bruised LNP will lick their wounds and rue their ignorance of the community movement that gathered pace under their noses, Australia’s major parties will have to consider a new phenomenon: the non-career parliamentarian, one who enters parliament, not for party allegiance and faction but for voter representation and change. For the Westminster model of government, this is indeed a stunning novelty.

 

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14 comments

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  1. pierre wilkinson

    hopefully new era of consensus politics…
    and a federal ICAC with teeth

  2. A Commentator

    A good outcome
    A majority ALP government with control of the House of Representatives, without spending every sitting day negotiating with a leaderless policy free (make it up as you go) rabble of teals

  3. Hotspringer

    To: A Commentator
    Not to me, as a majority ALP government can go ahead with its plan to open more coalmines and gas fields.

  4. Wendy Stokoe

    Zoe Daniel, not Zoe Wilson.

  5. New England Cocky

    RE RECENT HISTORY OF INDEPENDENTS IN AUSTRALIAN POLITICS I have been a political activist for 40+ years in Armidale, in the NSW electorate of Northern Tablelands and the feral electorate of New England.
    .
    My FB page ”Armidale NSW Scandals” collects articles of political & general interest to these electorates.
    .
    It includes my short incomplete history of Independents in New England dating from about 1976 when I was part of the team that got the late Bill McCarthy (ALP) elected in Armidale then re-named Northern Tablelands.
    .
    Too often city journalists misrepresent regional matters, like Independents and also the local ”Save the Great Northern Railway” campaign that has the support of over 70% of local ratepayers concerned that the enormous costs of fencing, bio-security and loss of public infrastructure (the GNR) will further reduce the economic viability that the Notional$ require to maintain the political sinecures.

    .
    The Liarbral inspired Guyra to Ben Lomond Bike Track costed during a wet dream by Guyra’s leading barista. There is other more accurate data available from better informed sources.
    .
    My note about Independents in Recent Australian Political History (May 16 09:41PM)
    .
    ”Just for the historical record ….. the Independent Movement started in 1988 with the election of four (4) Independent politicians into the NSW Parliament representing the best interests of their respective constituencies and grew to seven (7) Independents by about 2003.
    .
    New England featured prominently in this movement because the then dominant Notional$ politicians had ignored the need for government services and public infrastructure in these electorates as part of their plan for a 1961 future.
    .
    In Tamworth Tony Windsor promoted the city and gained reticulated water supplies for many of the villages in near proximity to the many regional water supply dams.
    .
    In 2000 Tony displaced the Guyra Ghost to become the Independent Federal representative of New England until his retirement in 2013 due to health concerns in his family.
    .
    Then New England got stuck with ‘the not good enough” adulterous alcoholic misogynist Barnyard Beetrooter Joke who oversaw the economic stagnation of the region until 2022.
    .
    In NSW Richard Torbay was elected to Northern Tablelands in 1999 and successfully held the electorate with an increasing voting margin, being appointed Speaker of the House by Premier Iemma until the LABOR government was defeated by the COALition misgovernment, when Torbay was sent to the cross benches.
    .
    Here he was encouraged to join the Notional$, much to the disappointment and chagrin of the electorate, until his retirement due to the ICAC investigation of the Obeid matters.”

  6. The AIM Network

    Thanks, Wendy. Fixed.

  7. Albos Elbow

    Australia has spoken by voting for the Teals and Greens.
    Climate Change, Carbon Emissions, Corruption, Equal Rights for all, Gender Issues.

    We have to change our dirty, filthy habits now.
    https://www.theage.com.au/national/australia-found-to-be-world-leader-in-coal-power-greenhouse-emissions-20220520-p5an6s.html

    This is a great time to invest in renewable energy.
    Move to renewable energy at wholesale prices ASAP, join community energy companies like localvolts, support your local communities, save hudreds of dollars on your energy bills right now, while you significantly reduce Australia’s carbon emissions.

    Because you are buying at wholesale and not retail any more, your electricity consumption price will fall to about 7 cents per KWh (which is the average wholesale renewable energy cost so far in 2022).

    As more and more people join the peer-to-peer energy communities and more renewable energy comes onto the grid, we expect to save even more on wholesale renewable energy prices.

    For more information please visit the localvolts.com website or contact info@localvolts.com or joe@localvolts.com and get started on saving hundreds of dollars on your energy bills, reducing our carbon emissions and helping us move to net zero sooner.

    Please help spread the news about our communities’ growing positive change of energy.

  8. corvusboreus

    Funny election in terms of statistics.

    Coalition lose government by dropping 5.8% overall vote down to 35.7% primary,
    ALP gain power by only dropping another 1/2 percent down to >33% primary.

    Despite that superficially uninspiring tally, it looks to me like Albanese’s ALP will scrape by with enough HoR numbers to enable the formation of a majority government without renecessary resort to inconvenient negotiations with teals or greens.

    Along with the 72 seats thus far confirmed, another 4 seem good & gone to ALP folk;
    Bennelong (J Laxale)
    Richmond (J Elliot)
    Deakin (M Gregg)
    MacNamara (J Burns)

    https://abc.net.au/news/elections/federal/2022/results

    That would be 76 ALP seats

    Congratulations Prime Minister Albanese.

  9. corvusboreus

    One unremarked upon but remarkable feature of this election has bee the surge in support for Legalise Cannabis Australia.

    Not only did this party achieve the 4th highest senate primary in WA (outpolling both PHON & UAP) but they are also neck & neck with Hanson herself in the scramble for the final QLD seat.

    https://abc.net.au/news/elections/federal/2022/results/senate

    Traditional media & establishment parties would be foolish to continue ignoring this obvious groundswell of support.

  10. GL

    I expect that the Libs have put Little Johnnie back the large glass jar marked “Only to be Used at Elections” and filled it with a fresh batch of formaldehyde.

  11. Stephengb

    There is no such thing as a political Independent. Everyone, yes everyone will take a Left or Right stance on every political descision, they cannot help it.

    Every one of our elected parliamentarians will, at some point, be faced with voting for or against a proposed Legislation that effects the lives of millions, they as politicians will vote according to the extent off their belief in the ideology of the Left or Right Wing.

    Nearly all of the “Teal” independents are ex-Liberal, faced with a need to vote, for or against, Right wing Ideology, will they resort to past allegiances, I think they will.

  12. New England Cocky

    @ Stephengb: I am somewhat in agreement. Todd Sampson commented that ”teal” was a ”green blue” or a ”Green liberal” in an absence of sensible Liarbral policies for climate change and women’s safety in the workplace.’
    .
    The support for legalising cannabis for both pleasure and medicinal applications has huge advantages, as legalisation in about 40 US states has demonstrated with the enormous excise revenue.
    .
    Why a thinking government of the people could apply this revenue to providing suitable social housing across the country.

  13. Albos Elbow

    Exactly Hotspringer
    lets wait and see how many more coal and gas mines get approved by Labor, before we start talking about a “renewable energy revolution.”.

    Forming a hung parliament with Greens or Teal, combined with Greens controlling the senate is still the best result if you are concerned about climate change, like 81% of Australians are.

    A Labor majority could be almost as bad as a COAL-NP victory if we start “protecting coal workers jobs” and building more Gas Fired Power Stations, Black Hydrogen processing centres and not start with a clear, concise and equitable transition plan to move away from coal and gas by 2030, at the latest.

    Don’t forget, Albo matched Scummo’s fossil fuel spending promises dollar for dollar during the campaign, to help himself become PM.

  14. wam

    sela va sans dire, Etienne, un côté puis les autres. They are Libs with liberal hang ups. But they have stated their agenda and Labor will not find it hard to reach or exceed action on emissions and integrity. If Albo releases the rorts and lies of scummo, fryberger et al that a commission could investigate. The teals will be shocked.

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