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Independent triumphs: The changing of Australian politics

  • 24 May 2022
  The taxi driver taking us back from the electoral gathering in Northcote, Melbourne muttered nervously through his face mask. ‘What do you think will happen?’ He was a perfect illustration of Australia’s testy fault lines, a figure of immigrant achievement and insecurity concerned, even terrified, about what has been happening of late. Here was a Vietnamese individual whose children had grown up in Australia. ‘Should I be worried about China?’

That concern, along with an unmatched loathing for traditional politics, cost of living, the existential threat of climate, and inequality, await Anthony Albanese, Australia’s 31st prime minister. He finds himself in the unusual position of leading a country despite his party’s decline in primary votes.

The centre of the political system, in other words, did not so much hold as desert. As Liberal Party strategist and advisor Tony Barry sombrely, and immortally declared, ‘The wheel is moving, but the hamster is dead.’ The Liberals, he rued, no longer had a ‘natural constituency’. Conservatives could not be created ‘if they have nothing to conserve’.

The vote was a furious, determined and tenacious shout from the estranged centre, a shivering of the timbers. The calibre of individuals elected — many from professions, many with public service outside the traditional party hierarchy of patronage and promotion, and most, women — has not been previously seen in this country’s politics.

The message of the teal candidates, certainly when it comes to matters of gender equality and equal pay, are far from new. In the Melbourne seat of Goldstein, won by former ABC journalist Zoe Daniel, a striking meeting of narratives had come together. This was an electorate named after Vera Goldstein, a 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,’ Daniel stated, ‘because she was so independent that she couldn’t bring herself to run for either of the major parties.’

'The 2022 election took aim at the mistaken idea that all politicians must be cut from the cloth of careerism. The ideal — that a parliamentarian is a representative drawn from society’s best and brightest ranks to serve voters — has never been more genuinely realised.'

The story of 21 May was one of tilts and shifts in the balance of power across the federal parliament. The campaign by traditionalist, political veterans such as John Howard and Alexander Downer to undermine the independents failed. Howard had denigrated them as