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Independent triumphs: The changing of Australian politics

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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 ‘anti-Liberal groupies’ who did not represent the ‘middle ground’. Downer had expressed a sense of wounded masculine pride in decrying the aspirations of these professional, independent female candidates. The teals, he scoldingly remarked, were a here today, gone tomorrow phenomenon; men like Kooyong’s Josh Frydenberg and Wentworth’s Dave Sharma, were figures built for greatness and posterity.

Such assessments shabbily ignored the concerns of the very middle ground neglected by the major parties. In the seat of North Sydney, which saw the defeat of the moderate Liberal Trent Zimmerman, a triumphant Kylea Tink reiterated the fundamentals of the teal revolution. ‘The majority things for me,’ she told Crikey, ‘are climate action, integrity and addressing inequality.’

In Queensland, a state that never ceases to surprise at a federal election, the Greens made gains based on mirror-like messages used by the teals in Melbourne and Sydney. There was an additional factor at work in addition to the message on climate change, gender equality and political integrity. The Greens leader, Adam Bandt, put it down to the savage impacts wrought by weather in recent years and personally felt by the electorate. ‘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.’ 

Both the Liberals and Labor suffered losses in the south-east portion of the state. The Greens won in the Liberal-held seat of Ryan located in west Brisbane, prompting Greens candidate Elizabeth Watson-Brown to proclaim that, ‘We are now on planet Greensland’. In the seat of Brisbane, the LNP member Trevor Evans is struggling to fend off the challenge of Greens candidate Stephen Bates. 

Labor was also surprised in the seat of Griffith, previously held by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. The left faction Labor incumbent, Terri Butler, lost to Max Chandler-Mather in a 12.5 per cent swing. The campaign orchestrated by the Greens echoed the community approach that has become the hallmark of local campaigns since Cathy McGowan won the rural Victorian seat of Indi in 2013. ‘This wasn’t just a campaign that was fought over the last weeks,’ explained Chandler-Mather. ‘This is a campaign recognising that people are fed up with politics.’

Across the country, the major parties suffered falls in their primary vote: for the Coalition, its 35.3 per cent showing was down 6.2 per cent from the last election; Labor’s 31.9 per cent had shrunk from its 2019 returns by 1.4 per cent. The only state to buck the trend was Western Australia, traditionally hostile to federal Labor but keen, on this occasion, to punish the Coalition.                                              

Another telling sign for Labor, and a salutary lesson to cynical party strategists, is that voters will go for capable, hardworking independents over parachuted, political heavies when needed. Kristina Keneally, despite having only a short spell of residence in the Sydney seat of Fowler, was defeated by the local independent and former refugee, Dai Le. Mistakenly, Labor had thought they had secured the backing of that electorate’s large Vietnamese community, despite overriding the wishes of the branch, which had endorsed local lawyer Tu Le. On the night, Keneally paid the price.

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.

In Wentworth, businesswoman Allegra Spender, herself from a family stocked with Liberal grandees, stated the sentiment to her supporters on election night. ‘You said you were standing for the community, not the party, for taking responsibility, not blaming, for compassion, not division, and for the future, not the past.’

 

 

 

 


 

Dr Binoy Kampmark is a former Commonwealth Scholar who lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.

Main image: Posters promoting Independent candidate for North Sydney. (Mark Metcalfe / Getty Images)

Topic tags: Binoy Kampmark, Election, AusPol, Ausvotes2022, Teal, Independents, Australia

 

 

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Existing comments

This 2022 national election was a turning point from which it will be impossible to go back and that, I think, is a very good thing. 'Glamour' candidates, like Kristina Kenneally, flopped. I suspect she and her family will return to Scotland Island. There will, no doubt, be a reward of some sort for her. Both the Greens and the Teals used the prefential voting system against the Coalition. Perfectly normal and above board. Climate 200 funding and Clive Palmer's ads helped to defeat the Coalition. They were legal and I have no problem with them as they were funded from within Australia. John Howard, distinguished as he was in his time, is really 'yesterday's man' and it is impossible to anoint Dave Sharma, decent enough man as he is, as the Once and Future King. 'Kings' like Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott have fallen in political battle. It is a tough game. I wish Anthony Albanese and his new government the best. I think they are moving in the right direction.


Edward Fido | 24 May 2022  

It's not unreasonable to expect to see atheistic independents as, in due course, having been the stalking horses for Christian independents. They can normalise the loosening of bonds to the major factions, one of which is locked into positions which are intrinsically evil like its cousins in the culturally close nations of Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US, and the other of which may have good intentions but often not the wit to sustain them but, in any case, has its share of prudential evils which have the effect of obscuring to the electorate the viability to the continuing cultural functioning of society which those good intentions offer.

First the vision, then the will, and we can retire the stalking horses to pasture, as many of their aspirations can be comfortably inherited by Christian independents as a precursor to Christianising the parliamentary process, which is presumably what a nation in the image and likeness of God should have.


roy chen yee | 25 May 2022  
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If Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison are indicators of what 'Christianising the parliamentary process' will result in, then God help us.


Ginger Meggs | 27 May 2022  

“Christianising the parliamentary process”. Interesting concept there, and if the community was overwhelmingly and strongly Christian, then you would have a case. But if Parliament is supposed to reflect the community it represents, then the community has shown that “Christianising” the process is not what it wants. “Christianising” can be seen as a handy euphemism for very conservative political positions such as you see in the USA and carried forward by survival-of-the-fittest libertarians, but most Australians don’t seem to vote with religion front of mind. Then again, not many on the left these days are prepared to openly say they are atheists, as Bob Hawke did.

I’ll add two more names from state politics to Ginger’s pair. Joh Bjelke-Petersen and Fred Nile. Would Parliament really be a better place with more like them?


Brett | 02 June 2022  

'if the community was overwhelmingly and strongly Christian, then you would have a case. But if Parliament is supposed to reflect the community it represents, then the community has shown that “Christianising” the process is not what it wants.'

If you're a Christian, you have two complementary bases from which to work (or you wouldn't be one): the community are deficient because they are sinners; the Great Commission is not democratic because it is a command for everyone to be converted because the community, being sinners, are deficient.

Incidentally, atheism works from the same two bases. The community are deficient if they believe in the transcendental and so everyone should be converted into not believing in the transcendental.

Under either philosophy, democracy is a contingent good. Sometimes, it's good and sometimes it's not. Therefore, democracy is not an absolute but a contextual value. It's only good if, in a context, it promotes good.

' “Christianising” can be seen as a handy euphemism for very conservative political positions such as you see in the USA and carried forward by survival-of-the-fittest libertarians.'

By definition, a 'survival-of-the-fittest' 'libertarian' cannot be a Christian.


roy chen yee | 07 June 2022  

You misunderstand me. For all your righteousness about the Great Commission, the fact is we live in a society governed by a democratic system developed by people, some divinely inspired, others not. Taking Churchill’s point, democracy is not perfect but it is preferable to other systems. Christianising the parliamentary process may be benign in your mind but it would be the thin end of the wedge on the road to a theocracy, if I can mix metaphors. I suspect those who don’t share your righteousness would see Christianising the process as a step in the wrong direction.

I never said libertarians were necessarily Christian, only that in the USA they often share the same anti-choice, anti-gun control, anti-welfare, anti-government agenda as conservative Christians.


Brett | 21 June 2022  

You get what you voted for and the teals will have little or no influence now that Labor has enough seats. Furthermore, if the Greens and teals are consistent they will all stop driving petrol and diesel cars and turn off their electricity. Remember, labor has also advised that electricity prices will be cheaper under them which was a lie as it cannot happen.
And the taxi driver from Northcote must be worried about the lack of social responsibility being shown by the new development of the Northcote plaza where hundreds of new units are being built but very few for the disadvantaged.
So Albo, a good man, will never achieve his goals. He and his friends want to close down coal so there will be no exports and therefore no money coming in to pay for new hospitals.
So EUREKA STREET needs to have a good look at what has been promised and then weigh up the ramifications because you are in for one hell of a shock.


PHIL | 26 May 2022  
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Well said, Phil!
Thanks, Anna


Anna | 02 June 2022  

The institutional Church in Australia should also take note of the rout of the Right.
They are also headed for oblivion if they keep pursuing an agenda supported by only 2% of Catholics.


Bruce Stafford | 26 May 2022  

Thank you for this great overview of Australia's 2022 federal election Binoy. We have definitely witnessed a turning point in Australia's politics.

Hopefully, in the future, people representing us will not be the careerists representing big interests but will be genuine advocates for their communities who tackle the big issues.

The increase in the number of progressive independents and Greens in the Federal Parliament indicates that most Australian electors do now care about the environmental crisis that humanity faces. My hope is that the increase of these Members of the House of Reps and senators can push the new ALP government to cut back coal, fracking and natural gas much quicker than it has promised.

It was good to see PM Albanese jump straight into action and head to Japan for the Quad meeting.

It was a pity however that he did not emphasise that his government would take a different view on China-Australian relations to the Dutton-Morrison line instead of saying that the position had not changed.

Their line not only undermined and worsened Australian-PRC relations and trading arrangements, but also fitted in with the US irresponsible plans to foment war between the PRC and Taiwan.

The pre-election debate between Penny Wong and Marise Payne I thought was not a good sign. They both accepted the US-Australia alliance as a given and used the Solomons-PRC agreement as a reason to continue the concept of a China threat.
After the ALP won the election, PRC Foreign Minister Wang Yi congratulated Albo and called for improved relations. He blamed a “political force” in Australia for viewing China as a threat rather than an opportunity and causing a reversal of the previously positive and longstanding relationship.
PM Albanese decided to delay his response to thank the PRC and assure its leaders that under his leadership, Australia would not be trying to demonise China as did Dutton & Morrison I think this was very disappointing and was obviously done to ameliorate the UK and the US.
It is to be hoped that the Greens and the progressive independents are able to push the new ALP government to adopting an independent and non-aligned Australia so that Australia will enjoy more trust from those nations that do not agree with US or British imperialism.




Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 05 June 2022  
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‘independent and non-aligned Australia so that Australia will enjoy more trust from those nations that do not agree with US or British imperialism.’

As in, France will move heaven and earth to include an i. and non-a. Australia within the free trade cornucopia of the European Union? After all, we do want a virtuous foreign policy to provide some material dividends, no?


roy chen yee | 06 June 2022  

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