The female independents aiming to exploit Scott Morrison's 'women problem'

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A number of high-profile independent candidates are threatening to steal safe government-held seats in the next federal election as a growing mood of voter discontent with party politics and lack of action on key issues has put the government on notice.

Yahoo News Australia spoke to a number of independent candidates who are firming up as genuine threats in an election that could see the Morrison government toppled by a single loss due to its one seat majority.

Key Coalition held seats of Wentworth, North Sydney and Goldstein, in Melbourne, are under threat as three hard-hitting female candidates take aim at incumbents on issues such as climate change, respect for women and integrity in federal politics.

Polls show a majority of Australians want great commitment on climate action, while a string of missteps by the prime minister has seen Mr Morrison lose support among female voters – something upstart candidates believe they can exploit.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is staring down a 'women problem' at the upcoming election. Source: AAP
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is staring down a 'women problem' at the upcoming election. Source: AAP

The candidates speak to Yahoo

While declaring their independence from any party, candidates Kylea Tink (North Sydney), Zoe Daniel (Goldstein) and Allegra Spender (Wentworth) are all standing on similar policy fronts seeking change on climate action, gender equality and government accountability.

Ms Tink, who is a former CEO of the McGrath foundation, says there is a definite mood for change in the electorate as continuing government scandals and party politics take precedence over community issues.

The self-confessed “swing voter” believes the answer lies in independent candidates “taking Parliament House back” from the parties.

“I think what we have at the moment is a parliamentary system that’s driven by the political parties and the political parties have lost their connection to what the community really wants,” Ms Tink said.

“Our parliament needs to be filled with sensible, intelligent, economically responsible, socially-progressive Australians. Not egos, not career politicians, not vested interests.

The former CEO of two high profile charities will push for more action on climate in a contest for the seat of North Sydney. Source: AAP
The former CEO of two high profile charities will push for more action on climate in a contest for the seat of North Sydney. Source: AAP

“The only way forward is getting a strong independent cross bench in place so the discussion can be brought back into the parliament and not behind closed doors in the party rooms.

“It’s time the community took parliament house back.”

Current North Sydney MP Trent Zimmerman holds the seat by a margin of 9.3 percent.

But Ms Tink says that margin may account for nought as conservative voters show their frustration for Mr Zimmerman’s right-wing leanings when voting in the parliament.

“Our current member here says one thing to us as our member when we’re voting for him, but then he turns around and votes the same way as Barnaby Joyce,” she said.

“Politics was originally about the people and when done really well it’s the people’s voice driving the agenda.

“Our current leaders are too busy fighting about who’s going to be in power. It’s all about horse trading and back room deals.”

ABC journalist become political hopeful

Goldstein independent candidate and former ABC journalist Zoe Daniel, who also identifies as a swing voter, mirrors many of the same policy platforms.

She also cites the voting record of her seat's incumbent, referring to him as the “supposed moderate” Tim Wilson.

Ms Daniel told Yahoo News Australia that accountability in federal politics is basically non-existent and having a strong independent presence in the parliament is the only way to achieve that.

“A lot of the party policy-making is based on whether it will get the party re-elected rather than what’s important,” she said.

Ms Daniel says a career as a correspondent for ABC has prepared her for a role in parliament. Source: Twitter/ZoeDaniel
Ms Daniel says a career as a correspondent for ABC has prepared her for a role in parliament. Source: Twitter/ZoeDaniel

“I think when you get some sensible, centrist, calm, forward-looking intelligent independents onto the cross bench you kind of neuter that.

“One of the things that's really missing from the party system is the short-term decision making…it’s all about what will happen at the next election rather than what will happen to our country decades forward.

“And that’s what we really need to be thinking about.”

Morrison government 'pays lip service' to women's issues: Daniel

Ms Daniel also took aim at the Morrison government for its response to the review into the parliamentary culture and treatment of women, saying that it was one of the main reasons so many female candidates have put their hands up to run as independents.

“I think what the Brittany Higgins case proved to a lot of women that there is lip service paid to safety and equality of women in the workplace ... Perhaps that has encouraged independents like myself to step forward to try to make a difference from the inside with better female representation.

“We need more than reactive policy making on these issues, we need proactive policy making that actively protects women in the workplace.

“As a mother of a 13-year-old daughter this is something that I feel really strongly about. In 2022, basic human rights for women should not be something that we’re having to fight for.”

Businesswoman vying to reclaim Malcolm Turnbull's old seat for independents

Hoping to win back the seat of Wentworth for the independents after it was lost by Kerryn Phelps in 2019, Allegra Spender is perhaps one of the biggest independent threats to a government seat held by a margin of just 1.3 percent by Dave Sharma.

The daughter of former Liberal MP John Spender, she states her political intentions through a similar lens of climate change, gender equality and discontent with party politics as her aforementioned counterparts.

“I don’t think you’d be getting all these independents standing up and communities seeking independent representation if they were happy with party politics,” Ms Spender told Yahoo.

“There’s a sense in Wentworth that the individuals in the parties are looking after themselves and their careers and they’re not listening to what people in the community are saying.

Allegra Spender (middle) during a tribute to fashion designer Carla Zampatti last year. Source: AAP
Allegra Spender (middle) during a tribute to fashion designer Carla Zampatti last year. Source: AAP

“People are looking to be able to trust that government is working in their interests and is accountable and I think that people are really frustrated with a government that is refusing to be accountable for how it spends taxpayer money.

“Communities feel like they are being taken for granted and their money is not being used effectively and they want to see greater integrity in government.

“There’s a deep sense of frustration that this isn’t working,” she said.

Are they really independent?

With so many similar policy platforms and criticisms of the incumbent government, all candidates Yahoo News Australia spoke with confirmed they are being supported by lobby group Climate 200, which contains former independent kingmakers Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott on its advisory council.

So are these independent candidates truly ‘independent’?

“There’s no party, there’s no formal collaboration between the independents and to suggest there is, is a government construct to try and discourage people from voting for independents,” Ms Daniel said.

“I will be representing the people of Goldstein and every piece of legislation will be assessed through an independent lens based on the priorities of the people of Goldstein.”

Ms Tink stated similar views when met with the question.

“The independents standing up have a high degree of similarity around the issues that matter to us but I don’t think that’s because we’re collaborating, I think that’s because of the issues that matter to the community,” she said.

“They (the Coalition) aren’t listening to the people in their electorates. Our ambitions are aligned and that’s the kind of ambitions missing from the current government.”

Saying she could “only speak for myself”, Ms Spender said she would “work with anyone who aligns with the values that are important to Wentworth.”

Yahoo News Australia contacted Climate 200 for comment but did not receive a response.

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