Monday, February 26

If female ‘teal’ independents can shift power in politics, imagine what’s possible beyond the election

When I was 12, Julia Gillard was the Australian prime minister and Barack Obama was the US President. At my young age, I thought that this image of leadership was normal, standard, nothing out of the ordinary.

How wrong I was.

Looking back, the political landscape seemed to be finally opening up. That’s why it’s surprising, and disappointing, that the wins since then have been few and far between.

Parliament continues to be dominated by wealthy white men. For a young Asian-Australian woman like me, it is a visual reminder of who holds the power and who does not.

I thought this image of leadership — a female prime minister — was normal, standard, nothing out of the ordinary.(AAP: Lukas Coch)

But we cannot get lost in pessimism. There is good reason to think this election will be a very different one. This time around, a record number of women are standing as independent candidates. If enough are successful, it could decide the next government. 

In 2022, 49 female candidates have launched independent campaigns, almost double the number of the previous election. Most are calling for action on climate change, gender equality and an end to corruption in politics.

Among the frontrunners aiming for Liberal aligned seats are Monique Ryan against Josh Frydenberg in Kooyong, Zoe Daniel against Tim Wilson in Goldstein, Sophie Scamps against Jason Falinski in Mackellar, Allegra Spender against Dave Sharma in Wentworth and Kylea Tink against Trent Zimmerman in North Sydney. 

Why are so many women putting their hands up to run?

The main reason, many of them say, is that the government has failed to take essential action on climate change. The Earth is on track to hit a 1.5C increase in about a decade. This will lead to irreversible devastation, including the submersion of low-lying Pacific states and frequent and severe floods, droughts and heatwaves that will affect billions more people.

A group of people in teal t-shirts pose for a photo with 'Allegra Spender' posters by the side of a road
Independent candidate for Wentworth Allegra Spender says we have to act now on climate change.(Supplied)

Australia has repeatedly ignored these warnings. In 2021, we ranked last out of all developed nations for our greenhouse gas emissions and failure to move beyond fossil fuels. Both major parties have made little mention of climate change this election and have been criticised for their funding connections to oil and gas.

Allegra Spender, independent candidate for Wentworth, says she decided to run because she “could no longer watch from the sidelines”. She says the “next 10 years particularly for climate is crucial, and I believe we absolutely have to act now”.

Spender pledges to cut emissions by at least 50 per cent by 2030 and create a rapid transition to renewable energy. Other independents are pushing for an even higher 60-70 per cent emissions cut.

Demanding justice for survivors — and accountability

The government has also been heavily scrutinised for its failure to adequately address the culture of misogyny and sexual violence in Parliament. Last year, among other disclosures, Brittany Higgins alleged she was raped in Parliament House.

Liberal MP Christian Porter also faced an allegation of sexual assault when he was a teenager, which he strenuously denied.

Learning about these allegations was horrifying, but women did not turn away.

Yasmin Poole, a woman with dark brown hair, poses for a photo in front of the lawns of Parliament House Canberra
I truly believe that what happens on the ground will eventually shape what happens up on the hill, says Yasmin Poole.(Supplied)

I joined with women young and old to march on Parliament House to protest the treatment of women and call for justice for survivors. It was not a feeling of optimism. It was a demand for accountability. We stood together, strong.

The number of women running in this election shows that this movement has not fallen away. Most independent candidates are pushing for policies that ensure the safety, equity and respect of women, including the full implementation of the recommendations of the Jenkins Review to create a safer political culture. 

Ensuring integrity in government

The final pillar of the independent movement is ensuring integrity in politics. Nearly half of Australians do not trust the government to do the right thing.

To fix this, many independent candidates are backing a strong and independent anti-corruption commission to ensure that politicians are always acting in the people’s best interests.

Posted , updated 

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