Recently, someone asked me why so many independents are from the right of the political spectrum. The questioner was mostly referring to people like Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott, Kerryn Phelps, Zali Stegall, Cathy McGowan, Bob Katter, Julia Banks and Oliver Yates1. While the reasons for the numerous independents running are probably many and varied, it is a few recent, high profile candidates which are of interest here. People like Windsor, Oakeshott and Katter are ex-National Party members who became dissatisfied with the direction that party was heading and won seats in their own right as independents.
Cathy McGowan is a former Liberal staffer who turned independent and ousted the unsavoury Liberal Sophie Mirabella from the seat of Indi, and held it with an increased majority when Mirabella ran against her again in 2016. As is currently happening in Warringah, in Indi, the locals perceived Mirabella as taking them for granted, and having her snout in the taxpayer trough a little too deeply, and began a grass-roots campaign ‘Voice for Indi’ which eventually successfully drafted McGowan2.
Most people would have heard that Julia Banks gave a speech in the House of Representatives resigning from the Liberal Party and going to sit on the cross-bench. She condemned the “reactionary right wing” of the Coalition government and noted that its attitude to women was “years behind” that in the business world, and there is a “blinkered rejection of quotas and support of the merit myth”. She also excoriated the behaviour of Liberal members for deposing former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, whom she said did it “for themselves, for their position in the party, their power, their personal ambition, not for the Australian people who we represent.”3,4
Oliver Yates is someone of whom not many people would have heard. He is another former Liberal who is running in the seat of Kooyong (currently held by the insipid Liberal Josh Frydenberg1) at the next federal election. Yates has been a member of the Liberal Party for most of his life. He stated that “I can’t quite explain what has happened but the Liberal party’s [sic] culture is sick. Ten years of negative policy actions have created a black hole around the leadership, surrounding them in impenetrable darkness. They’ve ignored claims of bullying which is evident to all. … Faced with this, and when it is made clear that the ‘broad church” in Kooyong won’t extend to other Liberals with environmental concerns, the time comes to offer an alternative way. … The Liberal government’s blindness to the dangers of climate change is sickening.”
Independent Dr Kerryn Phelps won the former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s blue ribbon seat of Wentworth in a by-election late in 2018. This was despite all the garbage directed at her by the Murdoch press6, and the idiotic efforts by Morrison to support the Liberal candidate Dave Sharma7,8.
Independent Zali Stegall is running against former Prime Minister [shudder] Tony Abbott in his seat of Warringah, and given the government debacle in Wentworth, Abbott apparently perceives Stegall as a serious threat, as do most commentators. Stegall is a former Olympic skier and is currently a barrister9.
As I said above, someone queried me about why many independents were from the political right. My reply at the time, was that in the past, these people would have been a “natural fit for the Liberal Party” of Menzies or Fraser. However, that is not the case now. I think two things are happening. Firstly, the Liberal Party is being taken over by religious right-wing nut jobs and they are alienating those who either have been moderate members or who would have in the past been attracted to the party as moderate Liberals. Secondly, the Liberal Party clearly has a problem with women, and for the old farts in suits to say that quotas are inappropriate and that merit is what is important, is ridiculous. All you have to do is list some of the members of the parliamentary Liberal Party to see where ‘merit’ has gotten them: Scott Morrison, Craig Kelly, Matt Canavan, Tony Abbott, Kevin Andrews, Ian Macdonald, Barry O’Sullivan, James Paterson, Angus Taylor, and Tim Wilson. If that is what merit gives you, then the Liberal Party needs quotas. The rise of these moderate conservative independents is further demonstration of the slow demise of the Liberal Party.