Election 22 / 21 April 2022

The independents

Going it alone in federal politics can be a lonely endeavour, but independents can also punch well above their weight when it comes to influence and power. So let’s get across who the independents are, and what’s happening when it comes to this election.

How do you nominate to run as an independent candidate in a federal election?
You need to be nominated by at least 100 citizens who are eligible to vote in the electorate you want to contest, or if you’re from a recognised party, by the registered officer of the party. And if you’re an independent who already has a seat, you just need to be nominated by one elector. 

That’s it?
No… There are a lot more rules to comply with and that’s a lot easier to manage if you have a party machine behind you. 

Which begs the question, why would you run for parliament as an independent?
It’s a good question, too… And it’s even more relevant when you think about how many people run for election who don’t belong to a major party. Last election, 1,056 for the House of Representatives, and just over 300 of them were from the Coalition or Labor. But these are people who put themselves out there – because they have a passion for the community, for a particular issue, because they’re peed off with the major parties and, if you can believe it, some do it for fun.

And what are their chances of victory?
They are rarely successful… In the last 20 years, 7 independents have been successful in winning a seat in the reps. It’s 8 if you include Bob Katter who was a member of the Nats before he went independent and was re-elected. 

Is there anything about them that made them successful?
Five of them have come from country seats – and 3 were formerly members of the National Party. Three of them are women who beat high profile Liberals to win their seats – like Zali Steggall who beat former PM Tony Abbott in Warringah at the last election. But by and large, they were/are MPs who present strong positions against the Coalition in many areas, particularly on socially progressive policies and climate change.

Who are the independents from the last parliament? 
Steggall, who we just mentioned, Helen Haines from Indi in country Victoria, and Andrew Wilkie from Clark in Tassie. 

Let’s jump right in…
Alrighty then. Andrew Wilkie’s seat covers central Hobart and the west bank of the Derwent. He won it from Labor in 2010. He was in the military and was an intelligence officer. He first came to national attention for challenging John Howard in his head of Bennelong for the Greens – it was a kinda protest over the war in Iraq. He holds his seat with a whopping 22% margin making him the 3rd safest MP in the parliament. The thing to know about him is he says he won’t do a deal with either of the major parties if there’s a hung parliament.

And Steggall?
Her victory was one of the big stories out of the last election… Warringah was a blue-ribbon Liberal seat that had been held by Abbott since 1994, and many Liberals before him. But in 2019, voters changed their minds about him in a big way – he had a 18.7% 2-party swing against him and that saw Steggall elected with a healthy 7.2% margin.

Why was there so much support for her?
There was and will be a lot said about her stance for action on climate change and transparency being a driver of support for her at the last election and in the upcoming one, but the truth is Abbott’s popularity was in the bin at the last election and the electorate was ready to move on.

And Helen Haines?
She also holds strong views on climate action – and that’s a thing because she holds the seat of Indi in rural Victoria which had also been a Liberal seat. She took the seat from another independent Cathy McGowan who was a bit of a trailblazer in this space…

What‘s the story with McGowan?
She won the seat from Sophie Mirabella who’s a staunch Liberal on the conservative. When McGowan won the seat in 2013, it was a real boilover because that was the election that Abbott won government by quite a margin to kick Labor out of office – and Mirabella was one of his biggest supporters. But McGowan appealed to her electorate that takes in Wodonga and Wangaratta and up into the High Country – and when she retired, she was part of the process to pick Haines to be her replacement.

So who are the ‘teal independents’?
You are referring to candidates supported by Climate200 – and it’s backed by millionaire Simon Homes a Court. He’s been at pains to say Climate200 isn’t a party or a charity – that it’s a vehicle to bankroll campaigns by independents prioritising climate action and also stronger accountability measures in government, like an integrity commission. 

Why is he doing it?
And he says groups like his are required because it’s a “David and Goliath” battle, where the major parties enjoy significant advantages of scale.

What’s the counterpoint?
Coalition supporters say they aren’t transparent with their funding and don’t walk the talk. And critics say they basically are a party – their branding’s the same, there’s lots of teal, and their policies are pretty much the same.

Where will we see them?
Climate200 is backing candidates in some high profile fights – Allegra Spender is taking on the Liberals’ Dave Sharma in Wentworth. She’s the daughter of fashion icon Carla Zampatti and a former top diplomat and Liberal MP John Spender. And former ABC journo Zoe Daniel is challenging in the Melbourne seat of Goldstein, that’s where up and comer Tim Wilson is from. And there are many more…

And who’s going to vote for them? 
It’s a bit of an open question. And another question is if they will vote in enough numbers for some of these independents to win seats.

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