In just under two weeks, Australia will be holding a federal election. We’ve had a right-wing Liberal/National coalition government for the past nine years, despite their general malice, dodginess and incompetence. If they lose government, which the polling suggests they will (but the polling also suggested that last time and it was wrong so…), it’ll be to the Labor Party, which has been running a totally lacklustre and uninspiring campaign. But this post isn’t really about that.
As the Liberals have moved further and further to the right over the years (and especially since they rolled their previous leader, Malcolm Turnbull, and purged almost all of the so-called “moderate” faction out of the party), a good chunk of their previously rusted-on voter base have been drifting away. This chunk basically consists of wealthy, upper-middle-class professionals who support the Liberals’ economic policies of tax cuts for the rich and death by a thousand cuts to public services (mostly), but are not social conservatives and are alarmed by the existential threat of climate change. They are also unimpressed by the government’s neverending series of rorts and their mistreatment of female employees in parliament.
For this election, many of these disaffected rich people decided to take their dissatisfaction and turn it into something productive. In so doing, they’re hoping to follow the footsteps of Zali Steggall, who ousted former PM Tony Abbott last election, or Dr Kerryn Phelps, who briefly took the seat of Wentworth from the Liberals after other former PM Malcolm Turnbull’s ouster. They also take inspiration from Cathy McGowan, who won the regional seat of Indi off the obnoxious Sophie Mirabella. Numerous electorates which have traditionally been safely held by the Liberals are this year seeing impressive campaigns run by so-called “teal independents”, so-called because the candidates are traditional Liberal (blue) voters who are concerned about climate change like the Greens. My own electorate, Goldstein, is one of these – our “teal independent” is the former ABC journalist Zoe Daniel.
I think some people are kind of misunderstanding what these independents are purporting to represent. Like, I saw one article from a socialist publication which was like, “Thinking of voting for one of the ’teal independents’? Well, THINK AGAIN! They’re not a left-wing alternative!” I was kind of like uhhhhh… duh? They’re not claiming to be a left-wing alternative? Vivian has run into Zoe Daniel’s campaign team numerous times when he’s been out and about and they’ve always been clear that her politics are “centre-right”. If you’re a leftie, your choices seem pretty clearly: Victorian Socialists (if you’re in a seat where they’re running), then the Greens, then just make sure Labor’s ahead of the Libs. (We have compulsory preferential voting here, so it’s not like a vote for a left-wing minor party can be “wasted” – you can still keep out the Libs regardless of who gets your first preference.) We lefties are not the teal independents’ target audience – they want to appeal to Liberal voters.
The reason I feel positive about the teal independents regardless of their centre-rightness is that they actually offer the possibility to turf the Liberals out of seats where this had never previously seemed imaginable. As I mentioned, I live in one of these seats where the Liberals have a born-to-rule mentality. At the state level, my local MP is an absolute turdbucket who mostly stays under the radar so his odiousness can’t stick in the craw of Brightoners too much, but occasionally can’t resist and creeps out of the woodwork to say something hateful about the homeless or LGBTQIA people (neither of which is a popular attitude around here, not even the anti-homeless part). This guy managed to only win his seat on a margin of 51–49 last time, which firstly is a pretty incredible performance for Labor (and their 19yo uni student candidate) in such a blue-ribbon seat, but also says something about how there are too many people in Brighton who would vote for any old maggot if it had a Liberal ribbon on. Anyway, our federal MP, Tim Wilson, is not really as offensive to the sensibilities of “socially progressive, economically conservative” Brighton – he’s a free market extremist rather than a religious conservative, and is even gay himself, but is one of those people who goes on and on about bigots having the right to be bigots 🙄 So I still wouldn’t have said he was terribly popular… and of course the federal electorate is a fair bit bigger than the state seat, encompassing more Labor-leaning areas inland.
Until this year, I had pretty much no hope I’d see him lose his seat. However, I have been pleasantly surprised by just how well Zoe Daniel’s campaign has taken off in my local area – I have seen dozens and dozens of corflutes for her everywhere; below is just a small sampling of them:
…and since well before the election I’ve also seen numerous posters just criticising Tim Wilson:
And in the past week or so – with the election not very far away! – single-seat polling has suggested that Tim Wilson’s in trouble. Now single-seat polling is notoriously inaccurate, but when your single-seat poll says the margin is 64–36 in favour of the independent, that’s more than enough reason for the Liberal to start to sweat. Nor is he the only one: Josh Frydenburg in Kooyong, Dave Sharma in Wentworth, and Trent Zimmerman in North Sydney also have more than enough reason to be worried, and some others would be a little nervous, too.
There’ve been some dirty tactics. Before the election was officially called, Tim Wilson pressured the local council into fining Zoe Daniel’s supporters for putting up signs, with the spurious argument that they’re only allowed after the election is called. (Zoe Daniel’s campaign challenged the council’s decision in court, and won.) There’s the usual to-and-fro of corflutes being vandalised or stolen. (I’ve been able to observe this in my own neighbourhood, with vandals whiting-out Zoe Daniel corflutes and scrawling “VOTE TIM WILSON” over the top.) Tim Wilson keeps going on about “Brunswick values” (Brunswick being a trendy student-filled suburb in Melbourne’s north) and how it’s “outsiders” campaigning against him, as if “true Goldsteiners” wouldn’t care about climate change or women’s rights or LGBTQIA rights or something. Some fanatical Israel defenders are also against her because she once put her name to a public letter calling on Israel to stop mercilessly bombing Gaza (as if there aren’t numerous Israelis who also oppose their government’s regular assaults on Gaza – it’s not exactly a radical position, but anyway she apologised for it). It’s been pretty palpable how all these attacks have stepped up as the Libs have got more and more panicky that they’re about to lose the seat.
The teal independents are not left-wing, no. If they come to hold the balance of power, the chances are pretty high that enough of them’d end up backing another term of Liberal-National government (but they might be able to extract some concessions from them, so it’d still be marginally better than LNP majority government). That kind of sucks. But the thing is, they’re probably the best that these kinds of seats can hope for. I’m not going to be giving Zoe Daniel my first preference but I 100% am going to preference her ahead of Tim Wilson, and I’ll be as happy as anyone if she wins this seat on May 21 😛 I just hope to see it among some more exciting results in less right-wing seats.